18 December 2014

Medford Christmas Decorating

Hey there... the day sort of got away from me. Have you ever sat around trying to remember the administrator password for an old Mac you no longer use? It's not a productive way to spend any portion of your day.

However, I was more successful at printing the recipients' addresses of our holiday cards on their envelopes with my current computer and printer, something I've never even attempted before this year. They came out well; the printing is where it's supposed to be on the envelopes, and the lines of type are straight. This is largely due to the new printer, which has a handy guide slot that can be adjusted to the width of any envelope. Also of note: we are actually sending cards this year, after years of neglect in this area.
So I thought I'd just toss out a couple of photos I took the other night of some of the Christmas decorations near our house. This group of four adjacent houses is on the other side of our street just west of us. All of these houses always have some outside decorations, and while I don't know if they coordinate their efforts, the "cluster effect" benefits all of them.
This garage is on the corner opposite our street where it meets the Fellsway, and it's where I took photos of the Pontiac LeMans convertible (which is still there, parked behind the tow truck, almost a year after appearing). This is the first time they've done this, so I was pleased to see it for the first time about a week ago when getting off the bus on my way home one evening. It didn't take a genius to come up with this but it's clever and festive, plus I think there's something quintessentially Boston about it.

17 December 2014

Snack Time

I saw these at the store and curiosity got the better of me. I wanted sour cream and onion but they didn't have them, so I figured I was justified in buying these.
Technically there's no bacon listed in the ingredients, only "natural flavors," and the maple is from maple sugar. What they actually taste like is barbecue chips without any spiciness—there's some sweetness and some smokiness, and that's about it. Not bad, certainly, but not exactly as advertised.

16 December 2014

More or Less

I enjoy my tech gadgets, but I'm not usually the person who has to have the thing before everyone else. When I get a new phone, I don't load up on all the extras at the phone store. I prefer to wait and see what my needs are, and maybe I'll happen to read about an interesting product that's being funded through Kickstarter (which is how I ended up with my Elevation Dock).

I've never had a car charger for my iPhone. I don't drive, and most of the time we're in the car, we aren't going more than a few miles from home, and I don't use the phone to stream music or anything like that. But lately I've noticed that using Google Maps in the car, even just to check traffic conditions, puts a heavy drain on the phone's battery, and during our last couple of overnight trips to Rhode Island my battery was below 15% by the time we got home, so I thought it might be a good idea to get a car charger.

I figured the Apple-branded charger would be overpriced and I wasn't wrong, so I started looking at some of the other accessory brands that have been making Apple-compatible products for a while. I looked through some products when I happened to be at a Staples and found that most of the car chargers they were selling were priced at $25 to $30. I didn't want to buy a no-name piece of junk, but I didn't want to spend that much if I could avoid it.

I looked through some websites and noticed that Target was offering free shipping on any order. They had a Belkin charger for $13 but it was sold out online. I could order it to pick up at a store but the one closest to us didn't have them in stock, so I chose the store in Somerville near Union Square since I could get there on my own without too much difficulty.

When I went to the store yesterday I needed to get a couple of other things, and before going to pay I happened to pass the area with iPhone accessories. I was very surprised to see that the item I ordered was priced at $34.99. I'd already paid for mine online and it was being held for me at customer service, but if I'd just decided to go to the store without looking online first, I never would have known about the lower price.

It's surprising that this far into the life of the internet and the maturity of e-commerce this kind of pricing disparity still comes up as often as it does. You should never assume that in-store prices and online prices will match, and you also can't assume that one will consistently be lower than the other.

15 December 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #33

Today's pictures come to us courtesy of my friend in Kentucky, who also spotted the Willys I featured back in September. His lunchtime walks take him past an auto repair shop that frequently has old and interesting vehicles parked outside.

Last year I featured a 1980s Chevy El Camino that belongs to a friend of a friend. The only competitor the El Camino ever had here was the Ford Ranchero, so now I've covered an entire vehicle category, the so-called car-trucks.
Ford stopped building the Ranchero in 1979, while General Motors kept making El Caminos (and a GMC version, the Caballero) until 1987. I still see El Caminos around here, but I can't remember the last time I saw a Ranchero outside of a car show, so this one is interesting because of their relative scarcity, even if it isn't in great condition.
This one is from the final 1977-79 generation, and as you can see was burdened with rather unattractive styling. I don't remember ever seeing one with these wide side moldings even when they were new, though I did find one other photo online that suggests they are factory trim pieces. Rancheros could also be ordered with wood side trim like the station wagons of the period; this was briefly offered on El Caminos during the mid-'70s (naturally).
Because these were built on the same platform as other Ford and Mercury cars, the front clips are interchangeable, and I have seen Rancheros wearing the front end of a Mercury Cougar or Ford Thunderbird from the 1977-79 model years. The Thunderbird clip is especially interesting as it had hidden headlights, but either one is an improvement.

14 December 2014

Retro Video Unit (12/12/14... ish)

We were in RI for a family event Friday night and stayed over. Today was mostly taken up by the football game and preparing my TV column for The Longfellow Bridge. So I forgot this was a video week, but I figured I might as well post one anyway...

Big Audio Dynamite is a band I should have featured a long time ago. It's the band Mick Jones formed after being told by Joe Strummer that The Clash didn't need him anymore. As it turned out, Jones was much better off being shown the door than being involved in that embarrassing final album.



With its mix of street beats and spaghetti-Western twang in both the music and the musicians' outfits, as a band BAD shouldn't have worked, and if Jones wasn't involved I don't think it would have. "The Bottom Line" was the first single from their first album. I don't understand this video at all, but I like it. Plus when's the last time you saw anyone playing a Steinberger bass?

And now I'm going to go look for their CDs on half dot com...

11 December 2014

Funny Pages

I've been reading comic strips online for a long time now. There are a couple of sites for the companies that distribute the strips, and a site for a big-city newspaper like the Chicago Tribune covers the rest. (The Boston Globe has an online comics page, but it doesn't carry all the strips I read.)

I've noticed that the pages for individual comic strips accept comments, and this strikes me as pointless. Clearly I don't know what I'm talking about, because people leave comments on these pages. But what I find really disturbing is that these comments treat the contents of a given day's strip as though it's something that happened in real life.

Do you get what I'm saying? People read these comic strips online, then post comments about what happens in the strips AS THOUGH THEY'RE REAL. As though cartoon drawings of people—or worse, animals that can talk—are depictions of actual events. I find this deeply troubling. It's unhealthy, to say the least, and suggests difficulty in distinguishing reality from fantasy. Or maybe the real reason it bothers me is because it's a complete waste of time.

10 December 2014

Watch Wednesday (12/10/14)

In late October I sold a vintage watch on eBay for about three times what I'd paid for it back in 2003 or so, well above what I was expecting to get. I wish I had more old watches that were that valuable (a couple might be, but I don't want to sell them).

Anyway, I didn't splurge on anything (besides rent), but I'd happened to spot a watch on the Timex website that I liked, and being me I figured I could find one for less on eBay. I did, and it only took a couple of days. It was all of $25. (It's $44 on the Timex website.)
It's from their Expedition series but it struck me as a nice variation on the military-style watches that have been popular for the past five years or so. You know, like the Timexes that J. Crew used to sell for $150 (and have since lowered to a still-too-hgh $98). Then Timex came out with the Weekenders on one-piece nylon straps that you can get for about $35 at Target, and those are okay, but they aren't especially rugged and don't have a date function.

This watch is beefier. At 40 mm diameter it's a better size for my wrist, and its case has more heft to it. It just feels more sturdy. I also liked the matte finish case in a gunmetal color, a bit different from the usual silver. (This watch is also available in a matte silver case with the black dial and a white second hand, or a matte black case with a beige dial and black hands.)

I do not love yellow, so I do not love the yellow second hand, but I do like that it's a different color than the rest of the watch's markings—contrast is better, that's another reason why I didn't want the silver-case version. Timex makes other watches that use this same shape second hand in other colors, like orange and red. If I could come across one of those cheaply enough, I might consider having the hand switched out. (Yes, I do tend to get somewhat carried away with this stuff...)

Of course, I had to change the strap. It came with a two-piece version of a nylon NATO strap in olive green. (In case anyone's wondering, the beige-faced version comes on a brown strap and the silver case version on a tan strap.) It was a little long for my wrist, and didn't feel substantial enough for the watch it was on. I first tried one of the kind that looks like carbon fiber but is actually leather, but it was so stiff that even after I'd shaped it to my wrist it was too uncomfortable to wear. The strap in this photo is from a site called Crown & Buckle that sells plenty of NATO straps at pretty reasonable prices, and also carries leather straps that they make, or have made for them.

This one is a fabric that resembles canvas; I've also seen this type of fabric described as sailcloth. The back is leather, it's about 4 mm thick and is soft and sort of squishy. I think it goes well with the overall rugged appearance of the watch. I might at some point put this watch on a tan leather strap with white contrast stitching, because I think that would look good too.

(Side note: all the time I was doing this watch feature regularly, I struggled to take photos that were close enough to show the details of the watch faces and still in focus. It wasn't until a couple of months ago, when I was preparing the eBay listing for the vintage watch, that I finally realized that as long as it's in focus, an image can be made to appear larger and closer-up by cropping it, which I've done here.)

09 December 2014

Someone's in My Way... Again

Today was not a fun day to be outside around here. There was heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour, I believe. But eBay beckoned and I had to drop a package at the post office. A rather large package, in fact, so I had to employ a couple of plastic bags to protect it from getting wet.

I also had to stop at the supermarket on my way home, which was my own fault—I could have gone yesterday when I didn't have anything else going on and it was cold but not raining. I caught a bus at Wellington and figured I'd have about a 10-minute window to run into the store and get back to the bus stop for my bus.

As usual, everything was fine until I got to the checkout. There was a woman ahead of me who seemed to be having a mental block as to how to slide her debit card through the machine. In fact, she said so, just so we all knew what was happening. She went on her way, I paid for my things, took a moment to organize them in the bag I'd used to carry the package, and turned toward the exit, where I found her again in front of me, stopped, with her cart blocking the door as she leaned over to pick up some sort of flyer.

Eventually she realized someone was behind her, and looked back at me and apologized. She moved on to the outer door, where she again stopped, looked out at the rain, and said, "Oh boy, would you look at that? It's really coming down." I said, "Yes, and now I have to run across the street and try to catch the bus, so could you please step aside?" She looked confused, but I didn't stick around for any other reaction because I didn't have time, and I was done with her.

But as I hurried across the parking lot, a monologue continued in my head, as it often does: If you could just withdraw from your bubble of self-involvement for a moment and realize that you're not the only person trying to leave the store, that would be great.

08 December 2014

Car Stuff: Remember These?

Just a quick one this week from my stash of random photos: a 1998 or '99 Isuzu Trooper, still doing troop duty for one of the families in our neighborhood.
This generation's 12-year run ended in 2002, but for a while in the early to mid 1990s these were everywhere around greater Boston and eastern Massachusetts; I knew a couple of coworkers who had them. They seemed pretty rugged but Isuzu's limited resources meant they were unable to keep pace with more refined, carlike vehicles like the Ford Explorer. By the time they got this vehicle's replacement to market, no one cared anymore.

(Don't worry about the snow in the pic; this is from last winter.)

07 December 2014

This Week in Awesome (12/6/14)

TWiA didn't happen again last week, blame it on the holiday weekend I guess. I'll try to make up for it with a larger-than-usual portion of interweb stuff...

Ugly sweaters are now officially a "thing," to the point where the NFL is trying to sell team versions. As soon as something goes from hipster-ironic to a greedy attempt to cash in, it's over. (Esquire Style Blog)

Two fascinating people have a conversation, and you'll want to see it. Wasn't there a TV series like this a while back? (Filmmaker magazine via Dappered)

No time-lapse, but how about some eerie drone footage from over Chernobyl? (io9)

Oh wait, I guess there is a time-lapse after all. (Vimeo; music in the first half may not be to everyone's taste)

Since it's the Christmas season, read about how the famous Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet came about. (Yahoo via Kempt)

And finally this week, anyone who's ever worked retail will be able to relate to at least some of this, but as to the specific company being discussed, these stories are beyond appalling. I continue to wonder how they are still in business. (SB Nation via Valet)

06 December 2014

Really Big Show

I saw Interstellar tonight, in IMAX. I'm still digesting the movie, but I'll say that the last 30 minutes or so do require some pretty heavy suspension of disbelief, but that's not necessarily meant as a negative. Technically it's deeply impressive, not quite in the same league as last year's Gravity but still with plenty of striking shots and moments.

This was my first time seeing a movie at the Assembly Row IMAX theater, and I was a little underwhelmed, especially considering the ticket price ($17.50). The screen is only maybe 50% as large as the one at Jordan's in Reading, and there were a few times during the movie when the music was loud enough to obscure dialogue. Now that could just be how the movie's sound was mixed, or it could have something to do with the IMAX sound system.

I will say that the stadium seating lets you go up about four rows from the entry aisle and be vertically at the middle of the screen's height, which I find is ideal for seeing IMAX movies. And if you go to one of the earlier showings in the day it's cheaper; I think the first two shows are $12. (I just checked and for comparison, all the shows at Jordan's are $12.75.) If you can't get to Reading and you don't want to go downtown the IMAX at AMC Assembly Row is a decent option: it's T accessible, the theaters are clean, and the staff is pleasant. But with IMAX, I've found that bigger is better, plus you can get Richardson's ice cream in Reading.

04 December 2014

For Want of a Bookstore

I've gone downtown to do errands three out of four days this week. Monday I needed to go to the bank, and yesterday and today I had to drop off packages on their way to people who bought stuff I'd listed on eBay. (Being able to print the postage at home is great, no waiting in line at the post office—as long as said post office has an automated package center with the big drop bin.)

Of all the jobs I've had, I only worked downtown for a few months once, but I've spent plenty of time around there over the years. In recent years though, not so much, so sometimes when I walk around it seems like things have changed more dramatically than they perhaps seem to others who are around there more regularly.

For example, yesterday it occurred to me that since the Borders closed a few years ago, there is no general bookstore. There's the Brattle Book Shop and Commonwealth Books, but both deal in used books. It's really sad and unfortunate that the area couldn't seem to sustain a bookstore.

But as has happened in other cities, Downtown Crossing is seeing an influx of residential units in both new construction and redevelopment of existing buildings. In a few years there will be at least a couple thousand people living in the area, and perhaps then it will make sense for the return of a bookstore as an amenity residents will want.

02 December 2014

Grocery Checkout Gauntlet

This afternoon I made a quick run to the market. We have two Stop & Shops to choose from; one is smaller but a little closer, so when it's nice out I'll usually walk to that one. But since it was cold I decided to catch the bus down to the bigger one. If I know what I need and I'm getting only a few things I can usually get my stuff and get out of the store in time to catch the same bus as it's coming back on the northbound run of the route, after it goes into Wellington and comes back out again.

That did happen today, but I barely made it. As I was waiting for the bus to pull over so I could get off, the bus driver said to me, "you made good time." I replied, "It mostly depends on what happens when I get to the register." That's where things get iffy.

There always seems to be someone ahead of me who's buying only three or four items, but for whatever reason their checkout takes multiple minutes. Or I get stuck behind one of the few dozen people who still clings to paying for groceries by check. Or the cashier has too much cash in the drawer and has to make a drop to a manager. Or, as happened today, after the checkout I got stuck behind a cluster of people lugging grocery carts, in no hurry to get to the exit, and without enough room for me to go around them.

I know I'm impatient, but it's 35 minutes between buses, and sometimes when I've bought groceries, I just don't feel like walking home with them. I try to be considerate of other people's time, but the reverse never seems to happen.

01 December 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #14

Even though the American car companies offered compact cars starting with the 1960 models, and filled in the gap with midsize cars a few years later, the carmakers held onto the idea that their full-size cars defined and represented them well into the 1970s. And while the large cars were often the standard-bearers for styling and design trends, even before the first oil crisis in 1973 plenty of people did not need or want a full-size car.

For many buyers midsize models often represented a sweet spot in terms of exterior size and interior room: not too much of the former, not too little of the latter. The midsize models of the mid-to-late 1960s were roughly the same size in overall length and weight, and were equipped with engines of roughly the same or greater size and power output, as the standard cars of 10 to 15 years earlier. (It would have been interesting to see how the American car market developed if full-size cars hadn't kept getting bigger well into the 1970s, but that's a tangent I'll leave for another time.)

As the 1960s rolled into the 1970s, the bloat of full-size models began to afflict midsize cars as well. By 1974, when the federal government required all new cars to have bumpers capable of withstanding a 5-mph impact, the length of a midsize car ranged from about 206" (for a Chevrolet Malibu two-door) to 215" (for a Ford Torino four-door), during a period when two-door and four-door body styles were typically built on different wheelbase lengths; people bought four-door cars because their back seats were roomier. (For comparison purposes, current midsize cars like a 2015 Honda Accord or Ford Fusion typically land at about 190-192 inches in overall length.)

But before that happened, midsize cars were still fairly sensibly sized and attractive. The convertibles and sporty two-door models like the Pontiac GTO and Dodge Coronet R/T tend to get the most attention from collectors, but today I'm going to express my appreciation and enthusiasm for a plain-Jane four-door sedan. Why? Watching TV shows like Adam-12 while growing up may have something to do with it, where it seemed like all the patrol cars were Plymouth Satellites or Dodge Coronets (later, when the LAPD inexplicably switched to AMC Matadors, the show did as well).
My particular choice is going to seem an odd one to a lot of people. I like all of the 1968-70 Satellites and Coronets (like the one I featured earlier this year), but what I'd choose for my fantasy garage is a 1970 Dodge Coronet 500 four-door sedan. For unexplainable reasons I love its scowling face, and I have since I first saw one in the parking lot of my elementary school in the early 1970s. The 500 was the highest trim level available for a Coronet in 1970, and I figure it would be more interesting to have one of those than a plain base model that would look like an old detective's car.

It's not too surprising that the internet isn't exactly bursting with images of these cars, but it is a little disappointing. Curbside Classic did a writeup on a '69 Coronet 440 sedan a couple of years back with a few good pictures of the car in question, but there isn't much else that would be useful here, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

28 November 2014

Retro Video Unit (11/28/14)

For some reason I was in the mood for something from 1979 tonight. This is from 1981 but it's close enough... The Cars, "Since You're Gone."


26 November 2014

November Sunset

I happened to look out the kitchen window (which faces roughly west) yesterday afternoon and saw the sky looking like this, so I grabbed my phone and went out on the back porch to get some shots of it.
The actual sunset looked much more pink-to-red to my eyes, so when all the images came out with more of a range of color I was surprised but not disappointed.

25 November 2014

Festive

Since before we moved to this house eight years ago, the upstairs apartment has been occupied by various unrelated single adults, some of whom moved on when their relationship status changed. This summer two of the three left, and the girlfriend of the third moved in. There were furniture purchases and other expected domestications.

Then about ten days ago I started noticing bits of holiday-related decoration appearing. There's a small window in the front wall of the house, about head-high, that lets light into the stairway going up to the second floor apartment. Vinyl lettering saying "Merry Christmas" showed up on that window, affixed to the inside. A couple of days later there was a package on the front porch addressed to the female upstairs resident. It was a doormat, and because it was wrapped in clear plastic I could see that it said "Wipe your merry feet." Indeed.

I grew up in a house where Christmas decorating was embraced enthusiastically, and I have friends who are equally merry, but I'm not used to seeing it so close by, or so early in the season. The majority of people in the neighborhood who do decorate seem to have an unspoken understanding that visible exterior decorations are not supposed to appear until after the Thanksgiving meal has been consumed.

On Sunday I went outside to get the paper and found that the window in the door leading to upstairs had been covered by a piece of holiday wrapping paper. It blocks the light that comes in through that small window and makes the vestibule dark, but at night when their stairway light is turned on it makes the paper glow warmly.

Last night when I took the dog out, I saw that a couple of rows of blinking lights had been strung on the second-floor porch railing. They were arranged in a straight line running around all three sides of the railing about halfway up it. There were white lights and blue lights (thankfully not those LED ones that emit a weird, artificial-looking light) but they weren't mixed together, and they'd been set up to blink in seemingly random patterns.

It struck me as something of a half-hearted effort, but perhaps it's only phase one in a larger light-show plan. It's still two days before Thanksgiving, so there's plenty of time for who knows what else to appear.

24 November 2014

Car Stuff: Bye Week

This is supposed to be a Fantasy Garage week, but I'm just too tired to start digging into that now. And since it's a holiday week anyway, I'm just going to go with this through-the-windshield shot I snagged at a traffic light near our house at dusk back in early September.
It's a Lincoln Town Car from the 1975-79 generation. I wish I'd been able to get a clearer shot, but I had only a few seconds so I'm lucky I got anything. It's interesting that there seem to be a lot of older Cadillacs around, at least ones from the 1980s, but by comparison I see far fewer older Lincolns. Maybe I'll cross paths with this car again and then I can do a fuller Random Sighting post on it.

23 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/22/14)

25 degrees yesterday morning, 65 (or possibly higher) tomorrow. Gotta love New England...

Have you ever seen a car chase in a movie and recognized the locations where it took place? (Motorpunk via Hemmings blog)

The caption says it all: Christmas just got weird. (The Chive via The Clearly Dope)

The song used in this video has been out for about eight months, but somehow I wasn't aware of it until I saw this. Obviously these people were not dancing to this song in the source clips, but whatever they were dancing to, it's still a strange sight. (Tastefully Offensive via The A.V. Club)

And finally this week, I try to avoid getting into political stuff, but this rather perfectly encapsulates the fundamental problem with the arguments against immigration policy. (Esquire)

22 November 2014

The Comfy Chairs

Went to the movies tonight (Big Hero 6—seems like I end up seeing more kids' movies than adults' movies lately) and experienced the overstuffed, reclining seats at the AMC Assembly Row theater. I have mixed feelings about them. There's the obvious danger of falling asleep; I didn't, but it's easy to imagine it happening if one was tired.

Also, my legs started to get crampy about halfway through the movie. I don't know if it's just because they were horizontal instead of vertical (being supported by the lower portion of the seat that unfolds as it reclines) or if it was a circulation thing, like what can happen on long plane flights. Overall I think I prefer the seats a bit further back in the theaters that are still thickly padded but don't recline.

20 November 2014

Feeding Patterns

We've been feeding the dog "human food" (chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, and spinach) mixed in with her kibble for a few months now, with definite success. She has gained back almost three pounds and is much more enthusiastic about her daily meals.

But roughly every 10 days or so she disdains her meal, even though she acts like she wants it. She pokes and nibbles at it for a few moments, then walks away. She'll usually come back to it a bit later and do the same thing again without really consuming any substantial amount of it. We have no idea why. We know she's hungry, and we know she likes what we're feeding her.

We tend to project our thoughts onto our pets because they can't express themselves to us in a way we can understand, so I find myself thinking things like: she's refusing to eat on purpose just to be difficult. Her unpredictability is what's perplexing to us because dogs tend to prefer very regular feeding patterns. But it is possible there are times when she just doesn't feel like eating, and given her advanced age that's probably what's happening. I also know that a couple of hours from now she'll be hungry, and will expect me to prepare her a fresh meal.

18 November 2014

Mailing Things

What is it that people do at the post office that takes so long? I waited in line for seven minutes today to drop off a package that already had postage on it. When I got in line only one of three windows had a clerk. A second appeared but was busy for some time with people who had already been to the window once and had been told to come back when they had completed paperwork.

A third guy was floating around in the back, then stepped forward to ask if anyone was waiting to pick up a package. Two people came forward and he helped them, then he asked again, said,"Well, I've done my duty," and disappeared.

This post office has slots for dropping off mail but they are narrow. My package was small but still too large to fit in the slot. I asked and learned that if a package is small enough and weighs less than 13 ounces, it can be dropped in a mailbox. That might have saved me a trip, though today I had to go to Medford Square anyway. Still, it's worth knowing about for possible future use.

As for knowing the weight, I recently acquired a scale, the kind people use to weigh food portions. It can measure up to 11 pounds, which is more than enough for my shipping needs.

17 November 2014

Car Stuff: Retro Rod

I spotted this restomod as we passed a gas station one day about six months ago and was able to get my phone up quickly enough to snap this one shot.
It's a 1955 Chevrolet, and normally I'd have cropped the image much closer to the car, but it's not super-sharp, probably because we were still moving, and looked blurry when cropped. Plus I think it looks better with some of the surroundings giving it context.

I thought this was a "sedan delivery," a rare body style that was basically a station wagon with a flat load floor behind the front seat and no side windows. But when I looked at this picture on my computer, I think the black paint is intended to disguise very dark tinted windows, and that this is in fact a two-door station wagon that the owner wants people to think is a sedan delivery. I wouldn't say it's wrong to do this, but why not just show off the car you have? It's still a '55 Chevy two-door wagon, a rare item on any day.

15 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/15/14)

It was a full, busy day, but damn it, I'm getting this up tonight...

Even with the current plethora of security features, there has always been something fascinating about the concept of counterfeiting currency. (GQ)

I tend to notice stuff in the background in movies, or at least I try to. (The Verge)

If there's anything to take away from this, it ought to be: do your own thing, don't follow the herd. (Washington Post via Esquire Style blog)

This is a thought exercise with no real purpose but some interesting results. (Nerdist)

And finally this week, for some time I've been enjoying looking back at a period in the area's history I was only around for the last few years of via Dirty Old Boston, which I first found as a blog on boston dot com. The brain trust at bdc did away with all the "community" blogs including DOB about eight months ago, but fortunately there's also a facebook page (which you don't have to belong to fb to view). The proprietor, Jim Botticelli, was compiling material for a book that was published earlier this month, so now there's a website for the book that also has a blog and an online store. Jim was interviewed this week on WBUR's "Radio Boston" and you can listen to the interview here.

Retro Video Unit (11/14/14)

I posted a clip from The Jam once before, about two and a half years ago, so I think it's okay to revisit them at this point. They were one of the most interesting UK bands of the new wave era: they had style, they had a distinctive sound, and there were only three members (okay, yeah, The Police were also a trio).



"In the City," the title song from their first album, encapsulates everything you need to know about the band. Singer/guitarist Paul Weller has had a varied and fairly prolific solo career, but keeps a relatively low profile.

13 November 2014

Coffee Break

I was thinking about coffee this morning, as mine was brewing. I don't think there are any other food items that I consume every single day. There's also beer, but there are occasional days when I don't drink a beer with my evening meal.

I was first introduced to coffee when I was around five, when my mother added a little to my milk. But I didn't start drinking it with any regularity until near the end of high school. That's also around the time I started visiting Dunkin' Donuts, which is when I discovered what half and half was. Cream was never used in our household, and I guess I had never noticed it in the grocery store either. If you haven't done a direct comparison, coffee with milk tastes markedly different from coffee with cream. (I don't use sugar, it's just more unnecessary calories and I think it ruins the taste of the coffee.)

In college my roommate had a coffee maker, and when I lived alone as a senior I acquired my first one. I couldn't even count how many of them I've had since, but it's probably at least a dozen. I remember a roommate in a house a couple of years out of college having one of the earliest Braun models that used the cone-shaped filters. I was struck by the thought that had gone into the various elements of the design. Of course I wanted one for myself and I did get one, eventually, but it was a few years later.

Around that same time I tried to develop a taste for drinking coffee black because it seemed like a cool thing to do. Aside from the harshness (which cream does an excellent job of mellowing) and the stomach discomfort, I found that with black coffee there was a very small window between "too hot" and "too cold" and I always ended up missing it, so that experiment was short-lived.

It's funny how some people never make coffee at home, and their only relationship to it is through their office or a coffee shop. I guess it goes along with trying to eat breakfast but I've always wanted the ability to have coffee before leaving the house. But there were times when that wasn't always the most convenient option.

In the mid-1980s I worked at the Harvard Coop, back when it was still an independent store that sold things like records, housewares, and non-university-logo clothing. I always worked Saturdays, and the bus I took to work during the week either didn't run on Saturdays or didn't run as frequently, meaning I would have had to get up significantly earlier (unthinkable in one's early 20s) or take a different route.

This also happened to be during the period when the Mass. Ave. bridge was being rebuilt, and as with the Longfellow Bridge now, there were traffic restrictions. The 1 bus had to be rerouted, and the alternate route took it through Kenmore Square, past BU's main campus, and across the BU bridge to Memorial Drive and eventually back to Mass. Ave.

Where I lived at the time, the 57 bus stopped right in front of our house, so on Saturday mornings I'd take that bus down into Kenmore, go into the old Dunkin' that used to be there (back when they still had counter service), get the recently-introduced Big One (20 ounces, which I think corresponds to their current large) for around $1.25, cross the square, and wait for the next 1 bus to come through.

Amazingly, the timing always seemed to work out perfectly, even during the winter. I think there was only one time when I had to forego the coffee and make the bus connection in front of Marsh Chapel in order to get to work on time. And getting that Saturday coffee was something of a treat, a reward for having to get up and go to work while others were sleeping in.

11 November 2014

Welcome to Your Nightmare

All right, so TWiA didn't happen again this past weekend. The timing would have been much better, since this thing only started banging around the web on Friday. Saving it until next weekend seems like it would be pointless, so for those of you who haven't encountered it already, Adult Swim slipped something extra weird into its already pretty weird late-night lineup.

It's called "Too Many Cooks." It starts out as sort of a spoof on a broad genre of 1980s and '90s sitcoms, and then it just, well... if any of you have seen Adam Scott's homages to '80s TV opening credit sequences, which also aired on Adult Swim under the banner of The Greatest Event in Television History, then you could argue that "Too Many Cooks" is kind of like if David Lynch made a GETH.

But it's more than that, too. I don't want to spoil it so I won't say anything else. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it's worth the 11 minutes of your time. If you do watch it, you may then want to read this interview with its creator (a veteran of other Adult Swim shows). And a lot more has been written about this bizarre but fascinating short: BuzzFeed, Salon, even Vanity Fair and The New Yorker weighed in on it.

10 November 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #32

Back in September I found myself in Arlington Center one day, looking for some used paperbacks at the used bookstore The Book Rack. I was unsuccessful, and on my way home I got stuck in a gap between buses on Boston Avenue in the vicinity of Tufts, so I decided to walk to where I could get a different bus. It turned out to be a fortuitous circumstance because I found three cars worth photographing during that walk, two of which I'm sharing today.
Along Boston Ave. there's an auto repair place, and those tend to be good places to spot interesting older cars. In fact, we had passed this place in the car and I'd caught a glimpse of this car, but didn't expect it to be there again several weeks later, but it was, which suggests to me that it may belong to one of the employees.
It's a 1971 Buick Skylark Gran Sport (GS), which was Buick's counterpart to its corporate cousins the Chevrolet Chevelle SS, Pontiac GTO, and Oldsmobile 4-4-2. The different models shared many mechanical components but had their own styling, interiors, and instrument panel designs. Back in '71 silver wasn't the ubiquitous color it is today, so this is an interesting sighting for that reason too. (Buick called this shade "platinum mist.") As with the '72 LeMans convertible near my house that I wrote about back in late March, production of '71 GS models was pretty low. The GS was available as either a hardtop like this or a convertible, each with three engine choices: a 350-cubic-inch V8, a 455-cubic-inch V8, or a higher-tune 'Stage 1" version of the 455. There was also a GSX package which added a spoiler and black striping on the hood and sides, so we know this isn't a GSX.
These iPhone pics don't have the resolution for me to be able to tell what the fender badge under the GS says, but it doesn't look like the Stage 1 badges I found online, so it's probably either 350 or 455. The production numbers on those were 5986 and 1481, respectively. I apologize for how the right edge of this got cut off; I was trying to avoid getting the car next to it in this shot. Once I realized what was parked next to the GS I took a separate pic of it, plus you can see it in the first two pics above.
The bonus car, which is surely owned by a senior citizen, is a Chrysler Imperial, which was made only from 1990-93. The Imperial name has a long and complicated history as part of Chrysler, starting in 1926. In its most significant period, from 1955-75, it was a separate brand, meant to sit at the top of Chrysler's brand hierarchy as a competitor to Cadillac and Lincoln. This car, however, was merely a New Yorker Fifth Avenue with different front and rear ends and a plusher interior.

07 November 2014

Printer Postcript

As a follow-up to last night's post about printers, I now have three old, decommissioned printers packed away in their boxes in the basement. The space they are taking up isn't crucial but could be used to store other things. I was pondering what to do with them and remembered that A Proper Bostonian told me a couple of years ago that Best Buy accepts electronic items for recycling at no cost, even if you didn't buy the item from them.

The information is fairly accessible on their website: at the top of the page under Services there is a link for Recycle Your Old Products. There are some restrictions, which vary by state. Here in Massachusetts you can recycle up to three computer items per household per day. We will be sending our old printers on to their next lives this weekend.

However you feel about Best Buy as a corporate entity, this is an extremely useful and environmentally beneficial service and they are to be commended for offering it. Most electronic products contain a high percentage of components that can be reused or made into other things, but the materials need to be directed to the proper facilities for this to happen. Keeping old junk out of landfills benefits all of us in the long run.

06 November 2014

Print Queue

I haven't had good luck with printers. I've had several over the past decade, and they seem to start getting problematic after only a couple of years. We had various issues with them that I don't even remember now, mainly ink issues and printing issues, and spending too much on ink.

In 2007 I bought a Mac mini that came with a free printer of my choice up to $100 valu, so I picked up a Canon inkjet. The frequency with which we had to buy replacement ink, and its cost, left us very unsatisfied. Kodak had come out with a line of inkjet printers that had significantly lower ink replacement costs, so we decided to get one of those. I bought that printer in 2010.

That printer really seemed to blow through ink too, and I didn't even use it that much. Eventually I read a story on Consumerist that said leaving a printer on standby rather than turning its power completely off would save ink, and the Mrs. pointed out that I could use the "draft" setting for print quality, something I hadn't even thought about. But this printer, too, became problematic, particularly after I upgraded my Mac to the latest version of the operating system a few weeks ago.

When I sell an item on eBay, I can purchase and print a postage label at home, and then just drop the package at a post office. But twice within a few weeks I purchased the label and was unable to print it. eBay lets sellers void a purchased label, but the refund takes 15 days for the postal service to process! When I sell an item I need to be able to reliably print a label so I can get the package out as quickly as possible. We decided we needed to replace the printer again.

This time I went to the library and spent half an hour going through the past year's issues of Consumer Reports to see which printer models they had tested and which ones they thought were a decent buy. I also looked at replacement costs for ink cartridges for the three major inkjet printer brands: HP, Epson, and Canon. Among CR's recommendations was an HP printer called the Envy 4500. The Envy models are sleeker than average, which appealed to my aesthetic sense. HP's ink costs are reasonable ($36 at Staples for a combo pack of black and color ink) and most retailers were selling it for about $80.

There was also a slightly nicer model with the same specs plus a two-tone black and silver finish and a larger color touch screen instead of a simpler LCD. That model was selling at most places for $100, but there was a Staples coupon in last Sunday's paper for 15% off one item, and being able to go to a nearby store and get one right away was preferable to having to wait for one to arrive from ordering online.

So we ended up with the Envy 5530. If you want to spend a little less you can get the 4500, which will perform the same. I've sold two items on eBay this week and the printer has done its job. It was easy to set up, it's quieter than our last one, and it prints more quickly. I'm hoping this one will last a little longer than two or three years.

05 November 2014

Overheard: Threat Assessment Edition

This afternoon I listened to a guy sitting behind me on the T have a phone conversation with his significant other that went generally along these lines: "You do not have ebola... how do I know? Because there are no confirmed cases of it in the state, or in any of the neighboring states... have you been in contact with anyone from West Africa? No, you haven't... you probably have the flu. If you're really that uneasy about it, go see your doctor... babe, I work in a hospital, it's my job to know these things... you are kind of a hypochondriac... you get sick a lot... it's not possible, you just don't have it..." and so on.

04 November 2014

The Voice

I hear my own voice talking to me inside my head frequently, but it rarely has anything useful to say...

03 November 2014

Car Stuff: Back to the '70s

I love street scenes, especially ones with lots of vintage cars on view. I grew up in Rhode Island and used to go on shopping trips "downcity" with my grandmother; by 1979 or so I was venturing into downtown Providence by myself on the bus to shop for clothes and records.

Conveniently, several images from the city of Providence's online photo gallery showed up on the Hemmings blog on Friday. I went to the city's website to see what else they had. It seems like these are all from no later than 1977 or so; it's hard to say exactly, but I don't think I see any cars newer than that year.
This shot is looking south on Dorrance Street (possibly from the old train station), with the western edge of Kennedy Plaza at the left and City Hall at the right. The white Mercedes S-class coming into the bottom of the frame is a bit of a surprise, but they were starting to make inroads into the market by the mid-'70s.
Looking at more or less the same spot but from down at street level, there's the Haven Brothers diner truck about to pull into its regular spot adjacent to City Hall. Food truck, old-school style. The blue car at the left is around a '73 Oldsmobile Delta 88; the black one is a Mercury Monarch, one of the newest cars I can spot in any of these pics.
From the same spot, a pivot to the right gives us this view looking west down Washington Street. The edge of City Hall is at the left, and just beyond the right edge of the frame is the Biltmore Hotel, which is still around. A Pinto! A Checker cab! Look at all those VW Beetles!
Back to the first photo, but the photographer moved a block south and turned back around looking north across the intersection of Dorrance and Westminster Streets. You can see that the building at the left in the top photo is the same one the camera is facing here. Check out that granny's pedestrian move. That old Plymouth is a bit unusual, even for this point in time. Behind it, going the other way, the black car looks to be a Chevy Monza, which came out in '75. And there's an old green RIPTA bus on the right.
Here the photographer has crossed Dorrance and turned around to look west down Westminster, which at the time was a pedestrian street closed to vehicle traffic for several blocks (and I'm pretty sure they stole the idea for that from Washington Street in Downtown Crossing). It makes sense that Old Stone Bank would have had a branch across the street from its competitor Hospital Trust. (Trivia: I spent the summer between high school and college working for Old Stone as a mail clerk in their operations center. They licensed Fred Flintstone to use as their mascot in commercials, and their ATM card was called Ready Freddy.)

Those two station wagons cruising past are basically the same car: the silver one is a 1972 or '73 Ford Gran Torino. The red one is a 1977 Mercury Cougar, which had previously been called the Montego and was made as a Cougar for one year only.
This photo is from a couple of blocks further south, along Pine Street looking across a parking lot (since replaced by a parking garage) at the Weybosset Street entrance to The Arcade, a National Historic Landmark building built in 1828. Behind it, and looming over downtown, is the old Industrial National Bank building, which many Rhode Islanders refer to as "the Superman building" because of its resemblance to the building used for the Daily Planet in the old Superman TV show. (Sadly, it now sits vacant and unused.) The green car is a first-generation VW Scirocco, extremely scarce now.
I realize there are no cars in this photo, which is at a point further west on the Westminster Street pedestrian mall. I included it because of the stores. Shepard's department store went bankrupt in 1974, but the building still stands (as does the clock) and today it houses the University of Rhode Island's continuing education department. Chess King! It's embarrassing to think about it now, but I did shop there for a while. And further back, with the red facade, is B. Dalton Bookseller, which eventually became part of Waldenbooks.

02 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/1/14)

Oh, TWiA, why can't I seem to stick to a regular schedule with you? Not to mention finding good stuff seems harder than it used to be...

This is from last week, but worth a look: Remember that band that did that song "You Get What You Give" in the late '90s? Ever wonder what happened to them? (The Hollywood Reporter via Dappered)

Sometimes the internet is just silly, but enjoyable anyway.

Video games have never been my thing, but I will admit to a touch of nostalgia for the arcades of my youth (where I mostly played pinball). That said, one could waste a whole lot of time here. (The Verge)

And finally this week, Prince was the musical guest on this weekend's Saturday Night Live, and he did not disappoint. I've always thought the guy was a musical genius, ever since I was first turned on to his music back in 1982 by my dorm RA. I didn't think this would be posted online, but I'm glad it is, and you will be too. (Hulu via Rolling Stone)

01 November 2014

Retro Video Unit (10/31/14)

(Damn it, I really meant to post this yesterday... when it was still Halloween.)

We had the smallest amount of trick-or-treaters in the nine Halloweens we've lived here; I think the doorbell rang three times. Anyway, this isn't specifically a Halloween song, but one that fits in well with its mood and tone and general aura of pervasive weirdness: "Nemesis" by Shriekback.



I miss these guys. I know they've released a couple of albums in recent years, but I haven't heard them and I kind of don't want to, because they just won't be the same. I saw them live twice, once at the old Avalon on Lansdowne Street (back when it was still called the Metro), and once at the Channel near South Station. You wouldn't necessarily think so from listening to their recordings, but they were an amazing live band, and Barry Andrews was everything you could want in a lead singer.

31 October 2014

Black Thursday?

Here it is Halloween, and I'm going to talk about Black Friday. Again. By now you've probably heard that Macy's is planning to open its stores at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, and that yesterday Kohl's announced that their stores will be opening at the same time, and staying open straight through until 10 pm Friday night.

Gee, if that's the case then why close at all? Why not just be open 24/7 all the way through Christmas Eve? Well, there's a Kohl's store in my city, and I just read that the company petitioned the city council for permission to remain open around the clock on up to ten days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I don't yet know if the city council granted permission.)

I'm here to encourage you to avoid this nonsense. Instead, consider shopping at stores that have enough respect for their employees that they choose to remain closed on Thanksgiving. You may not think spending a holiday with your family is ideal, but thousands of retail workers would like to do so. Nordstrom has been a longstanding adherent to not opening on Thanksgiving, and they are joined by Saks Fifth Avenue, Costco, Marshalls and TJ Maxx, and Dillard's.

I don't expect a reversal of recent Black Friday creep, but you can at least make an effort to support those retailers that are trying to hold the line on this foolishness. At least here in Massachusetts we have things called "blue laws," a vestige of our Puritan founders, that prevent stores from being open on Thanksgiving at all. So that's something.

30 October 2014

Last Minute Treats

Forgetting about, and then putting off, buying Halloween candy ended up paying off: almost everything at CVS was $1.88 a bag, and they still had a decent selection.

29 October 2014

Armchair Critic: Assembly Station

I had occasion to use the new Assembly T station for the first time yesterday. Passing through a subway station for the first time after it has been built or renovated is always an interesting experience. I always find myself wondering how long it will be before it starts to look dingy.

The new station is constructed of mainly concrete and stainless steel, which I guess is easier to maintain than the ceramic tile used elsewhere in the system. Its industrial appearance blends in fairly well with the general character of the area and the other new buildings adjacent to it. (Remembering that the site was originally a Ford automobile plant makes this association more valid.)

When I came out of the station, I was struck by the emptiness around it. The entrance, like that of Wellington, is at the northern end of the Orange Line platform, but the point where riders emerge is still a couple hundred yards south of the buildings that make up the Assembly Row complex (the most likely destination for riders getting off at this stop), and the distance to the row of older stores is about twice as far, across swaths of parking lots and newly built roadways. Neither of those is going to be a fun walk come January. Someday, the rest of this area is going to be filled in with other buildings, like what is gradually happening in the Seaport district downtown, but it's going to be a while before that happens.

Also, as I predicted, there is no sign that the T intends to have its bus routes serve the station directly; as of yesterday, the bus stop is all the way across those parking lots and roadways, in front of the Bed Bath & Beyond store. Now, with the way the bus routes are currently set up, maybe subway riders don't need to connect to those buses, and vice versa. But it still speaks to the T's long-standing habit of negating progress with shortsightedness.

Of course, other things about the T don't change either. Right outside the entrance to the station there were two people puffing away on cigarettes.

27 October 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #13

I was looking back over the cars I've selected for my Fantasy Garage so far, mainly because I'd reached the end of the 1960s and I was feeling like I might have overlooked something. Of course I can always circle back, but my compulsive nature makes me do things like this.

One omission that became obvious right away is the lack of any station wagons. This is interesting because I've always liked wagons and have a couple in mind for later installments. Last year I wrote about my appreciation for a 1960 Chrysler Town & Country, which led to the first car in my Fantasy Garage, the 1960 Chrysler 300F convertible. There must be other wagons from the '60s that I'd want to include, right?
1964 Plymouth Valiant wagon (Old Car Brochures)
Sure, and I especially like smaller station wagons, from that period in roughly the first half of the '60s when carmakers were offering a range of models in different sizes, trying to have something in their lineups for everyone. Chevrolet had the Chevy II/Nova; Chrysler had the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant; and Ford had the Falcon and Mercury Comet.
1965 Dodge Dart 270 wagon (Love to Accelerate)
The small wagons didn't last, though. The Chevy II/Nova was gone after 1967, the Valiant/Dart after '66. The Comet moved up to become Mercury's midsize model in '66, and the Falcon wagon from that year on was just a variant of the midsize Fairlane wagon with a Falcon front clip, so it could no longer be considered a compact. (It is interesting that the car companies returned to smaller wagons in the '70s, but I think I'll discuss those another time.)
1965 Ford Falcon Futura wagon (Old Car Brochures)
That leaves the period from 1960-65 when all three compact models were available as wagons. But of course, this is where things get a little tricky. In 1960 Chevrolet's compact wagon was the rear-engined Corvair, but I never thought it was all that attractive. The 1960-62 Plymouth Valiant was a curious beast, somewhere between compact and midsize, and hobbled with peculiar styling. There was a Dodge variant for '61 and '62 only called the Lancer, with a slightly better-looking front end. (When I was a very young child, around four or five, we had a next-door neighbor who had a Lancer wagon.)
1962 Oldsmobile F-85 wagons (Love to Accelerate)
The Dart was also an oddball, the lower-priced and less attractive of Dodge's two full-size car lines. It wasn't until '63 that the Valiant and Dart became platform mates and true compacts. Meanwhile, for 1962 Chevrolet introduced the Chevy II as a more mainstream alternative to the Corvair. The Falcon and Comet got a restyle for '64-65 that improved their looks considerably. So those are my semifinalists, along with a couple of GM's other compacts, the 1961-62 Pontiac Tempest and Oldsmobile F-85. (Those got enlarged for '63 and, in my opinion, were made less attractive in the process.)
1961 Pontiac Tempest wagon (History of Cars)
These cars, with six-cylinder engines, offered the best combination of economy and utility available at the time. Anecdotally, I've heard that Falcons and, to a lesser extent, Valiants and Darts have become the preferred transportation of hipsters in certain cities, so that lowers the likelihood that I would choose one of them, though the renowned durability of Chrysler's Slant Six engine might nudge those cars back into contention.
A 1963 Chevy II wagon in a season four episode of Mad Men
Really, any of these wagons would be a fun addition to the FG, but for me I guess it ends up in a three-way tie between the various GM models. I'll stipulate that if I chose a Nova, it would be a 1965, only because I prefer some of the small details like the grille and tail lights.

24 October 2014

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I've been selling stuff on eBay for a while now. I've been a member of eBay for 15 years, but originally that was just as a buyer. But along the way I accumulated a lot of clothes, shoes, watches, and other stuff, and not all of it worked out for various reasons, so about ten years ago I started selling things sporadically.

I've got another batch of items for sale, both to clear out stuff that I can't use and to bring in some fundage. At the moment most of it is shoes and sneakers in sizes 10.5 and 11; there's also a nice vintage Burberry raincoat in size 40 regular, and I've been culling my collection of watches and selling some of them. I do have some additional outerwear and other clothing items to get to, and I add an item or two every few days, so if you find any of it interesting, you may want to bookmark my items for sale page and keep checking it. (And if for any reason that link doesn't work, please get in touch and I'll figure out why.)

22 October 2014

Dubious Fashion Choice

Waiting for a subway train today at North Station, I saw a guy wearing what I would have to describe as "skinny sweatpants." Naturally I think it's bad enough that someone thinks it's okay to wear sweatpants out in public (and by "out in public" I mean "anywhere beyond one's front porch or yard"), but it's even worse that he'd chosen to wear something in public that looked like he'd swiped it from his middle-school-age brother, or possibly his girlfriend.

Didn't guys learn anything from the skinny jeans fad? You are not Mick Jagger. You have not earned the right to dress like him. And now our favorite cozy, indoor lazy pants are being subjected to the same stylistic missteps, which obviously at least one guy thinks is okay.

I'm blaming the designers for this one. They've been meddling with our sweats; I've noticed a recent boomlet of sweatpant offerings from various fashionable brands and labels, with accompanyingly inflated prices. Todd Snyder's collaboration with Champion: $118. (I will admit I like the contrast waistband on those, but...) Acne: $220! (Wow, zippered pockets.) Club Monaco: $389!! (At least they're cashmere. Yup, cashmere sweatpants.) Band of Outsiders: $575!!! (A mostly wool/cotton blend, with cargo pockets. When you put it that way, who could resist?) Even damn Gap sweats are $50 $40. (Anyone who pays full retail for any item at Gap deserves to be ripped off.)

I have two or three of pairs of sweatpants that I wear around the house when it's cold. I'm sure I didn't pay over $12 for any of them, and they aren't crappy polyester blends either. I either got them in cheap stores like Old Navy or I found them on clearance in other, moderately priced stores.

The worst part of when designers get hold of a simple, utilitarian, everyday item isn't the obscene markup itself, it's that there are people who see such an item and think "I need to have a pair of those." And when someone drops $200 on a pair of sweatpants, he thinks he needs to wear them everywhere to justify the expense. What's the next step, designerified thermal underwear?

21 October 2014

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Normally I get our air conditioners out and stored away for the winter by early October, but the temperatures hadn't been that cold, and I had a feeling the warm weather wasn't finished yet. It seemed like each week we were having a couple of days with temps peaking at around 72, and then last week we had a five-day run of that, with Wednesday approaching 80 and oppressive humidity for almost the entire time.

We ended up running the AC Wednesday, overnight, and Thursday, which was the day it rained buckets and felt tropical. But then, as is typical, Sunday night and Monday morning we had an abrupt cooldown, with a low around 35 yesterday morning, so I figured it was finally time to put away the AC units.

It's supposed to rain again for much of this week and I was kind of busy yesterday. It's supposed to rain for much of this week but today was mostly dry, so I decided I'd rather get the units out now, otherwise I'd have to wait for them to dry out again. Back in June I purchased a hand truck to make this task easier, but today I learned its limitations.

I had previously borrowed a hand truck with air-filled tires and had intended to purchase one like it, but I ended up opting to save a few dollars by getting one with solid rubber tires. That wasn't such a big deal when pulling the hand truck up the steps from the basement to outside (all the houses around here have both internal and external basement access), but going down the steps was a different story.

The air-filled tires are mounted on larger wheels and are offset a bit more from the frame, so negotiating steps either up or down is much less jarring. Banging down the steps jarred our oldest unit, one with knobs instead of a touch panel, enough to break off the on/off knob. I tried to put it back on but bouncing down the steps had also dislodged something inside, so there was nothing there for the knob to attach to. It must be still inside, but getting at it will require opening up the unit. Worst-case, we'll have to replace that unit.

I decided to defer dealing with it until next year, when it's likely I will also rectify my mistake by buying another hand truck, this time one with pneumatic tires. If anyone local can make use of a hard-tired one, I'll sell it to you cheap.

20 October 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #31

Random Sighting was supposed to appear last week, but I guess I got confused...
This is a 1987-90 Chevrolet Caprice, a car that I first spotted in my neighborhood almost a year ago. In fact, the first photo goes all the way back to April, but I had first seen the car in January and taken a few shots of it, then I had a problem with my phone and lost some pictures that I hadn't bothered to back up, so when I saw it again in April I took another pic. Then in June I saw the car on the street again and took a couple more shots.
I'm not sure why I sometimes see it on the street, then I'll pass the same spot and not see it again for months at a time. Maybe it's usually garaged, or maybe it's just visiting. It's certainly well kept and cared for. I've featured a Caprice before and other GM full-size cars from this period, but this may be the nicest one of them, or at least the top three.
This design first appeared for 1977, saw its only significant revisions for 1980, and continued through 1990 before its replacement, sometimes referred to as the "bathtub Caprice," was introduced for '91. The script badge on the trunk is causing me a bit of trouble in pinpointing the year of this one: as far as I'd always known, all of these cars had block-letter badges, so it's possible the owner switched it out for one of these, which I think came off an older (1960s or '70s) model.

I always liked these cars. It may not be exciting looking, but the lines and proportions just look right to me and, as this car demonstrates, they were pretty durable if properly cared for.

19 October 2014

This Week in Awesome (10/18/14)

I didn't forget, honest...

Robert Plant performed on The Colbert Report last week, and while I was never much of a Led Zeppelin fan while they were active, I came to appreciate their music later, and what he's doing now is pretty cool. I'd love to hear Florence Welch singing this particular song, or how about a duet?

We haven't had a time-lapse in a while, so I'm pleased it's of Boston. (Vimeo via Universal Hub)

Warren Elsmore is a clever guy who LEGOized a supercut of a bunch of movies. (The A.V. Club)

The World Series is again upon us, and the New York Times used facebook likes to create a map of how team loyalties are divided geographically.

And finally this week, some of these are kind of funny, but some of them are pretty disturbing. (@Midnight)

18 October 2014

Retro Video Unit (10/17/14)

Another Friday slipped by with me forgetting about this. Oh well, I had some stuff to do yesterday.

This one will be quick: I've posted videos by The Church before, and this is a performance clip so it isn't even really all that interesting in the ways other music videos can be, but this song has been in my head so I'm using that as an excuse to post the song "Reptile."

Hm, can't seem to find the original video as I remember it. This is a good version of the song, but the quality of the video is terrible. Apologies...


17 October 2014

Season's Donuts

Recently Boston magazine named Medford Square's Donuts with a Difference to this year's Best of Boston list. We already knew, because we've been going there for years.

This afternoon I was in the Square and decided to stop by for a snack. We'd been in a couple of weeks ago and they had a couple of seasonal flavors, maple frosted and an apple cake donut that's very similar to the blueberry cake that they already offer, except with apple instead of blueberries (duh). I'd tried both and liked them a lot, so I ordered both again and stood on the sidewalk eating them, grinning like a fool because they're so damn good.

We know donuts are not healthy, so we don't eat them that often, maybe once every couple of weeks. But if you're going to enjoy something bad for you, it might as well be at least a good rendition of that bad thing, yes?

15 October 2014

Stand-In City

I've been working my way through the CW series Arrow via Netflix. It's based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, a lesser known member of the stable that includes Batman and Superman.

Arrow premiered two years ago, and by the time I noticed last fall that its first season was available to stream on Netflix, season two had already started. Last year it got compared to ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., another comic book-based series and one that had an up-and-down first season. More than once I read that someone thought Arrow was better than S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was already watching that, so it made sense for me to investigate Arrow.

Knowing that the third season of Arrow would start airing in early October, I started watching season one in August. It took longer than I expected, but even if I'd finished it more quickly, Netflix and CW decided to delay streaming of season two until last Wednesday, the day of the season three premiere. As it happened, I finished season one and started season two over the weekend, so I still have at least a couple of weeks to go before I'm caught up. Meanwhile I'm recording the new episodes and holding them on my DVR.

The point of all this is that, while watching an episode last night, I noticed something curious. In the between-scene skyline shots of the fictitious Starling City, where Arrow lives, there were some very familiar-looking elements:
Does anything look familiar?
How about this? (Someone is supposed to be using an abandoned clock tower as a hideout, so this one was followed by a shot of a set built to appear how the inside of this might look.)
Or this?

What I thought was strange was that I'd already watched more than 25 episodes of the show, and this was the first time I could remember recognizing any shots as being of the Boston skyline. The show films in Vancouver, and I had assumed that they were using that city's skyline for the sake of simplicity. But according to IMDB, the skyline shots include footage from a number of cities including Philadelphia; Frankfurt, Germany; Boston; Tokyo; and Singapore.

That's an interesting approach, but it seems like the show would want to mix shots from different cities, instead of all the shots in an episode being of one city, as this one was. I don't know who makes such decisions in a TV production—the editors, perhaps?

Plenty of shows have been set in Boston, with production based elsewhere but using shots like these (Fringe is a recent example that comes to mind). Of course, some shows have been filmed here too (well, maybe Banacek was only partially on location). But while I don't recall seeing Boston used as a stand-in for another place, it's probably happened before.
Here's one more from Arrow, of the distinctive Zakim Bridge from the north.

14 October 2014

Unseasonably Warm

75 degrees in October: the kind of thing some people long for, and others dread. Well, maybe "dread" is too strong a word. But it is October, and it isn't supposed to be this warm and humid.

I was ready to start putting away my summer clothing and shoes/sneakers in the basement, until I saw the forecast for this week. No point in doing it yet. The air conditioners are still in too, though we haven't needed them in a month. I just figured I'd wait until I was sure the warm weather was gone for good before taking them out and storing them.

Today wasn't that bad, but it was rather sticky. I had to head downtown to take care of a couple of errands. The bus driver was one I see semi-frequently, and when I got on the bus she said, "Got the shorts back on, huh?"

Car Stuff: The Getaway

I spotted this in early August, outside Staples in the Fresh Pond Shopping Center:
There are very few Volkswagen Beetles still around here, at least compared to places like Santa Cruz or Eugene, Oregon, and surely even fewer of the existing cars are convertibles. This one appears to be from the mid-to-late 1970s, based on the bumpers and the orange turn signal sections at the top of the tail lights. That would make it a Super Beetle (and according to Wikipedia, the single tailpipe identifies it as a fuel-injected model, which means it can't be any older than a 1975).

This car was already driving away as we pulled into a parking space, and I was very lucky to get a decent shot of it.

12 October 2014

This Week in Awesome (10/11/14)

Hey, what happened to Friday's post? For that matter, what happened to Friday, and Saturday? And last weekend's theoretical TWiA? Sheesh...

Intended for last weekend: nice piece about the legacy of The Replacements and their album Let It Be. (The A.V. Club)

The Daily Show's Jessica Williams takes on sexism and street harassment.

This week's rabbit hole: a most curious video archive. (@Midnight)

I've referenced this topic several times in the past: car paint colors and the extremely boring phase we are currently in. (Consumerist)

And finally this week, this thing goes on for five minutes so you certainly don't have to watch all of it, but I will understand completely if you do.

09 October 2014

Moonrise Over Medford

I think it's pretty obvious that I took this from a moving car, but it's still pretty cool:
Maybe it's more accurate to say "moonrise over Malden," since we were heading north on the Fellsway, so I'm facing east and the road is the dividing line between the cities. But then again, the moon is technically "over" everything, right?

08 October 2014

Streaming Blues

The streaming-TV site Hulu has been around for six years or so, and for a while I used it as a way to catch up on episodes I'd missed of certain shows. Generally a certain number of episodes of a show are available at a time, and if you don't keep up while a show is airing, the ability to view an entire season requires a subscription to Hulu Plus. I don't subscribe because I don't need to, and also because for your $8 a month, you still have to endure ads.

Lately I've been watching only one show via Hulu, a period drama about the scientists working on the atomic bomb project during World War II called Manhattan. The show airs on an obscure channel called WGN America that is not carried by Comcast, and WGN doesn't stream the episodes on their website, so I figured I wouldn't be able to see it. It wasn't until maybe three weeks after the show premiered during the summer that I even thought to look for it on Hulu, and didn't expect to find it but it was there (possibly because WGNA doesn't have the availability of some other channels).

New episodes are delayed three days after they originally air on WGNA before appearing on Hulu, which is no big deal (some Fox shows are delayed eight days). But my viewing experience with Hulu's streaming player has been atrocious. I've used all the TV channels' online players, and most of them work as they're supposed to. With Hulu, playback itself is fine; it's the transitions between ad blocks and show segments that's the problem.

Hulu shows blocks of ads that run between 90 and 120 seconds. When the blocks are finished the next segment of the show is supposed to play, but often nothing happens. The only way to restart the show is to refresh the browser, and then I have to watch another ad that's between 15 and 30 seconds, and then I wait to see if the show will start playing again. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't and I have to refresh two, three, or four more times, not knowing if it will work and enduring another ad each time. There are five or six ad breaks in each episode of Manhattan.

I assumed this was a nefarious ploy on the part of Hulu to subject viewers to more ads in each show they watch. Then it occurred to me to try a different browser. I already have to watch Netflix content in Safari because of some bug in Firefox that prevents proper playback, so I used Hulu in Safari and the show played flawlessly. I even got to forgo three ad breaks by watching a movie trailer, which Hulu does at random.

There are comments on Hulu from other users complaining of the same issue, so I have to think it's a browser-related bug. And there are only two episodes left in the first season of Manhattan, so I may not need to use Hulu again for a while.