04 September 2016

Random Searches, Random Results

When you search in Google (or whichever search engine you prefer), do you ever look at what results come up when you start typing? It can be very entertaining.
Please note item five on the list, which I have marked. For it to land that high, I believe that means a significant number of people must have typed that question into a search box.

Also noteworthy: the ninth item on the list. If you have to ask, then you may not want to know the answer...

27 August 2016

A Thoughtful Response

Ooh boy, it's been a while. I'm working a lot, you see, sometimes 50 hours a week. It's challenging and draining, and at the end of the day I don't have much energy for anything beyond TV. I wish I was reappearing here with something witty or funny or just interesting, but I'm not. Well, I do find it interesting, but not in the way I prefer to use that word.

Okay, so it's been kind of a terrible year or ten for those of us who consider ourselves progressives. I'm not going to attempt to get into why our country is in the place it is; I admit to not following every nuance of politics closely enough to do that capably (my late father-in-law was exceptionally adept at it, and I wish he was still around). There's a lot of toxicity in our everyday lives, and while not all of it comes from the political arena, much of it does.

I'm sure a lot of you have heard by now of the various heinous things spewed out of the noise-hole of the governor of Maine, who clearly views the Republican candidate for president as a role model in all the wrong ways. The plain truth is that the governor is a racist asshole who is doing his part to destroy any semblance of civility left in our society.

But the reason I have emerged from my bunker/hiding place to write a post is this: the Portland Press-Herald wrote an editorial apologizing to the rest of the country for this man and his behavior. It's brilliant and candid and dead-on, and you should go read it. Unless you share the views of what's-his-name, in which case then please just go away.

17 July 2016

Geography and Convenience

We've been going to Trader Joe's since the store on Memorial Drive opened in... 1999? I'm not exactly sure when it opened, but it was quite a while ago. I even worked there for the better part of a year. There are now 18 stores in Massachusetts (plus two in southern New Hampshire and one in Rhode Island), but we've never managed to get a store closer to where we live. Sometimes we go to the TJ's on route 1 in Saugus, not because it's closer or more convenient but because it's an easier drive from our house, compared to driving through Somerville and Cambridge's always-terrible traffic.

But then a couple of months ago, it was announced that Trader Joe's would be opening a store next year in the Assembly Row complex in Somerville that is roughly two miles from our house. (Our previous residence in Somerville was technically within walking distance of Assembly Square/Row, but it was a bit treacherous to get there.) The newer buildings that were constructed a few years ago were set up for smaller retail and don't have the amount of floor space required for a grocery store, even one like TJ's that's quite a bit smaller than a modern supermarket.

But the older part of the complex, which at one time was a traditional enclosed mall and, long before that, a Ford auto assembly plant (hence the name), is composed of medium-size floor plates and currently occupied by stores like Staples, TJ Maxx/Home Goods, AC Moore, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Christmas Tree Shops. A vacancy came about due to the demise of the Sports Authority chain. I have no idea how Trader Joe's secured the space, but someone must have had someone else on speed dial because it seemed to fall into place pretty quickly after the Sports Authority liquidation and closings were announced.

We've been going to the movies at Assembly Row since the AMC theater opened there, and the popularity of the complex has brought plenty of traffic. It's all right on the surrounding roads, but within the complex itself things can get chaotic. I imagine this will only get worse when the Trader Joe's opens, but I am hoping that Somerville will allow this store to be open until 10 pm like the ones in Brookline and Cambridge (most close at 9). That would give us some flexibility in when we shop and might help us avoid some congestion.

There's also a grocery-related development happening here in Medford. The Wegmans chain, based in Rochester, NY, has been growing quite a bit over the past decade and currently has four stores in MA. They distinguish themselves from competitors by building enormous stores (100,000 square feet is not unusual) with huge prepared-food sections, a response to our culture's desire for greater convenience. Wegmans has agreed to open a store at the site of the Meadow Glen Mall on route 16, about a mile from our house (and closer than the nearest Whole Foods).

The mall was awful, mostly empty with a few tired, sad stores kept afloat by a Kohl's on one end and a Marshalls on the other. (It was used by some seniors for indoor walking, and I don't know where they will go now for their exercise.) The property owners arrived at an interesting solution: the anchor stores have remained and are open while the middle section of the mall building has been demolished, and the Wegmans is going to be built in its place. We have heard that the store will open next year, but the Wegmans website lists it as TBD.

Meanwhile we have made a couple of visits to the closest open store, in Burlington, to sample the offerings. While not life-changing, they were certainly tasty, no more expensive than comparable items one might purchase elsewhere, and the staff were uniformly very pleasant and helpful. (The chocolate-chunk cookies with pecans are worth a repeat visit.)

Again it will be interesting to see how traffic is affected; there is also a proposal for an almost 500-unit apartment complex to be built on land directly across the street from the mall property (ironically, there used to be a Shaw's supermarket there). Neighbors have protested that the housing development would be too dense for the size of the property, and the Wegmans is likely to add significantly to traffic in and out of the area.

The Wegmans was announced first, but the Trader Joe's seems more likely to open first. Either way, upon hearing of the latter the Mrs. responded, "I guess we can never move." That remains to be seen...

02 July 2016

Milestones

Some events have occurred in our lives in recent months that I did not specifically discuss here, mainly because I find it difficult to devote time to blogging on my current schedule. So I'm going to take advantage of the long weekend and the brief pause in my regular activity to do a little catching up.

In February we had to say goodbye to our beloved greyhound London. She was 14 and a half, a ripe old age for a dog, and as would be expected that age brought with it a general decline in her health. For most of 2015 we were able to manage her needs, but by January nearly every aspect of her everyday life had grown very difficult. She had a hard time getting up from her bed, she needed to go out every couple of hours, she needed to be supported when squatting outside and when going up and down the ramp.

While she still enjoyed going outside and still had a good appetite for the food that the Mrs. cooked for her, she was on a lot of painkilling medication and had reached a point where she could no longer stand up by herself long enough to finish eating a meal. She was not suffering, but she was definitely struggling, and after some soul-searching and an objective assessment of the situation, we came to the conclusion that propping her up with higher doses of medication for another couple of months, or however much longer she remained with us, was not worth pursuing. We did not want her life to end in suffering, so we made a humane choice to have her euthanized.

Be assured this was a very difficult decision, one we had hoped we would not have to make. Every day I quietly wished that she might go to sleep and simply not wake up, in order to be spared any further decline, but that didn't happen. It is an inevitable part of the cycle of being a pet owner, or pet parent, or pet caretaker, and it's incredibly hard but it must be done. We have never doubted that we made the right decision, and beyond that I feel more human for having had this experience. We miss her every day.

At the beginning of June we marked ten years living in this apartment. We lived in our previous home for nearly 11 years, and I did not think we would remain here this long, but I have no regrets about it. My lengthy period of unemployment certainly got in the way of any thoughts of moving, and with the housing situation in greater Boston being what it is, living elsewhere would certainly be costing us a lot more; in the time we have been here, our rent has not increased, an extremely fortunate circumstance.

We are starting to feel that it would be nice to have a bit more space, like one more room that could be used as a dedicated office, so that we could then have a dedicated dining room. But I don't feel like my situation is stable enough yet to consider trying to find another place to live, so we will be remaining here for another year, at least. We really like our community, which is a definite asset, and if we do end up moving, we hope we can remain in this city.

20 June 2016

The Pop Paradox

Last weekend we attended a bar mitzvah; the young man is the son of a colleague and friend of the Mrs. The event was really nice, with teenagers running semi-amok and a delicious meal. A DJ was on hand to keep things festive, spinning pop hits covering the past decade or so.

A couple of things struck me about the music. I don't exactly follow pop these days, but I knew the majority of the songs, or at least the performers. But nothing was played as a nod to the adults in the room; nothing from the '80s, or even the '90s. (What the Mrs. thought was "Baby Got Back" turned out to be its sample-child, "Anaconda.")

But more notable to my mind (and ears) was a sameness to the music. Other than the occasional vocal performance, nothing really stood out. There's a similarity to how modern pop songs are constructed, even down to some of the chord changes they employ, that suggests they emanate from a factory somewhere. You hear the same structure, the same types of flourishes, the rap verse dropped in at approximately the same point.

It's not just simple nostalgia, or even the argument that the music we love and connect with as teenagers remains the most powerful and most significant to us. Divorcing myself from those sentiments, today's music just isn't as good as pop from eras past. While the roster of performers may come from more diverse cultural backgrounds, the music they are producing is not nearly as diverse as the sounds radio offered in the 1970s, or even the '80s.

05 June 2016

Hey, There

A few times over the past couple of weeks, I've wanted to post but felt like I didn't have enough to say to justify it. At the moment I'm almost ready to head off to bed, but a few thoughts are swimming around and I can probably turn them into small bits.

My work continues more or less the same, though my employer has allowed me to shift my hours so that my work day now finishes at 6 pm instead of 7. While I did like having time in the morning to accomplish certain things like paying bills, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and catching up with my online reading, I much prefer being done earlier and having that time free in the evening. So that's something.

Outlet shopping ain't what it used to be. On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend we visited Freeport, Maine, the home of L.L. Bean. We hadn't been there for a number of years and I kind of bugged the Mrs. into going. Even though we have Bean stores around here now, it's always fun to visit the original, but aside from that it wasn't a very exciting day. I didn't see anything in the stores that interested me much; part of that is just what's available at a given time, part is that outlets serve a different function than they used to; and part is that my tastes and preferences have shifted somewhat, and I also try to think more carefully before making purchases. Truthfully, my shopping urges could have been satisfied at the Kittery outlets, which are an hour closer than Freeport.

The weather cooperated; the day before it was 96 here, but the day we went it barely managed to hit 60. We did stop for dinner at the Portsmouth Brewery, which is always a good idea; they take the food as seriously as they do their beer. And following dinner we made our way over to Annabelle's Ice Cream, which I first visited over 30 years ago. It's still in the same place, and as far as I can tell it hasn't changed at all.

27 May 2016

Word Salad: What Do You Call It?

Okay, two weeks is a long time to be absent from here, and I apologize. I admit that I've been devoting most of my free time (what there is of it) to catching up on some of the backlog of TV shows on my TiVo.

Anyway, at work we had a listing for a multi-function pocket knife, and the description of its various tools and features was a little garbled. "... knife, saw, double jagged, scissors, bottle opener, can opener, the screwdriver, file, the threading, scissors, red wine drill." The last one is my favorite—it can only be used for red wine?

15 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 3

(I'd planned on making this only two parts, but part 2 ran a little longer than I'd expected and I wanted to give this enough space.) Normally I wouldn't have much to say about the final morning of a trip like this; we'd pack up, get something to eat, and head home. But this time we had a destination, and we had to be there on time. We had tickets to the observatory at the new World Trade Center building. (Neither of us went to the top of the original, and I'll always regret not doing so.)

It's roughly a ten-minute walk from the hotel to the eastern edge of the WTC site, but the observatory entrance is on the west side of the new building, which is situated at the western edge of the site, so it took a few minutes longer to get over to it. Upon entering the building we were sent down an escalator to a security screening much like at an airport, then through a winding passageway, decorated with mementos and artifacts from the construction process, to the elevators.

As we ascended, the walls of the elevator showed a video projection representing the growth of New York City from its founding to the present day, in the space of about a minute. That's all it takes for the elevator to rise to the 102nd floor. We were ushered into a long, narrow room to watch another video, this one maybe three minutes long, hyping New York in general. Then the screens pulled away for a look outside. After a few moments they closed again, and we were briefly confused: was that it?

But then they sent us through another door and down another escalator, to where the staff hit us with a hard sell for rental of a tablet device ($15) that would provide additional information about what we'd be seeing through the windows. Ignoring them, we moved around a corner to where some other staff tried to get us to pose for and buy a photo in front of a green screen; we waved them off and finally went down one more floor to 100, to the observatory itself. (I'm sure some of you might be interested in these extras, but that's not us.)

We deliberately chose the first timed entry of the day (9 am) thinking it wouldn't be quite as crowded, and that was a good choice. We had room to move around and take plenty of pictures without having to jostle with others for window space. Here's a sample:
There's a gift shop, of course, and a cafe if you want to hang around and enjoy the view a while longer. We left after about half an hour, which was more than enough time to make our way around the entire floor. Some of the photos had glare or reflections on the glass, so I can see the value of going in the middle part of the day when the sun is higher. (You can also go at night, though that costs more.)
Leaving the building, we made our way around to the memorial area where the original buildings stood. Even if we hadn't gone to the observatory, we would have made time to visit the site for this. Hundreds of trees have been planted in rows, but of course the focal point is the two voids, which have been made into fountains, with metal panels around the edges bearing the names of the victims. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours there, just moving along the sides and reading all the names. The letters are cut out of the metal, and here and there a flower had been inserted through a name, surely left by a relative or friend. Seeing the empty spaces where those buildings stood was a deeply emotional experience, one I didn't wish to compromise by taking photos.

(For those of you who may be wondering, the 9/11 museum is separate from the observatory. We did not visit the museum; I would be willing, but I don't think the Mrs. has any inclination to do so.)

We returned to the hotel to gather our things and check out.We took a cab back to retrieve the car, which was fine (let's hear it for a lower crime rate and an older vehicle). Before leaving we had one more thing to do: a stop at the Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, a short drive from where we'd parked. Unfortunately, the guy ahead of me got the last peanut butter and blackberry jam doughnut, so I had to settle for chocolate.

11 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 2

Right, where were we? On Sunday morning of our weekend trip to New York, the Mrs. was tired from all the walking we'd been doing and wanted to get some extra sleep, so I got ready and left the room, not really knowing what I'd do but eager to get outside and enjoy a beautiful day. (We were fortunate to enjoy fantastic weather the whole time.) The hotel always has coffee available in the lobby (along with some sort of treat, like cookies or muffins) so I fixed a cup and went outside.

There is a patio-type area adjacent to the building that serves as a beer garden during warm weather. Being only April it wasn't yet operating, but the tables and benches were there, so I sat in the sun to absorb some vitamin D (with a hat on, of course) and drank my coffee. I saw a man walk by with a dog and watched them cross the street heading toward the East River, just a couple of short blocks away. I remembered reading that the city had constructed a path along the river's edge, so I got up and followed the man.

The path was full of activity, with bicyclists, joggers, and people walking dogs. I sat for a while watching people, got a smoothie from a guy in a little hut, took some photos, then walked north for a bit, to the site where South Street Seaport is being rebuilt (it was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy). At that point I decided to head back toward the hotel and started walking down Water Street. When I was almost back I remembered that Century 21 was about to open (11 on Sundays), so I turned west and headed in that direction.

C21 is like a TJ Maxx on steroids, but also a somewhat nicer store environment. The store adjacent to the World Trade Center site has been remodeled and expanded, and now covers six floors (plus an annex with shoes). It sort of reminds me of an old-time full-line department store, with a substantial housewares department on the basement level. They sell a lot of discounted designer clothing, and plenty of everyday stuff too. The store had just opened so it was nearly empty, and I spent most of an hour browsing. I got a text from the Mrs. saying she was up and getting ready, so I headed back over to the hotel and found her in the lobby getting coffee.

We had a brief conversation about brunch, and decided we needed our Junior's fix. Sometimes (depending on where you are and where you want to go, and what day it is) a cab ride is easier and quicker than taking the subway, and 20 minutes later we were being seated in a booth. After eating we took the subway back to Manhattan, heading for the Cooper Hewitt Museum, but first we decided to stop in Union Square and visit the Strand Bookstore. The Mrs. got a case for her work iPhone, and I got a book on the history of pop music.

We continued uptown to the museum, and later had a very pleasant dinner with relatives at Maya, a Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side. They take the food a little more seriously than what's typical at many Mexican places, but still offer crowd-pleasing fare like tacos (mine had smoked brisket, pickled onions, and avocado).

After dinner we went over to 2nd Avenue to get a bus back downtown (that particular route stops right outside the front door of our hotel). When we got to the bus stop a bus was there, but all the passengers were getting off because the bus had been involved in a minor accident with a truck. When the next bus arrived a few minutes later, the driver waved everyone onto the bus without collecting fares. (This provided some balance to an incident earlier in the day when we were going back into the subway at Union Square. The entrance had no regular fare gates, just the vertical kind with the metal prongs. The gates took money off our Metrocards but wouldn't allow us through. Thanks, MTA!)

05 May 2016

Forms of Communication

As I have mentioned previously, my longtime friend Just Bud Fox is on tumblr, but I'm not. I don't fully understand how tumblr users communicate with each other, but they often "quote" each other's posts in order to reply to or comment on them publicly.

In response to another user's comment, "Remember the ‘90s, when getting email was fun?" JBF responded:
Come grow old with me? Some Assembly Required and I have been friends since 1985. Of that time, we lived in the same place for less than two years in the aggregate. We used to write big long letters and have periodic two hour phone calls. Then email took over. More contacts. Less content. Lately, we mostly text. We are aging through technology together. Gracefully, I hope.
I hope so, too. It feels a little weird to have known someone for that long, but also gratifying.

04 May 2016

Car Stuff: Basic Black

I saw the '72 Grand Prix again yesterday, parked in the same spot where I found it in January (which is making me wonder if its owner happens to live nearby). It was wearing its new coat of paint, so now we know what color its owner decided on:
I'll admit I was hoping for something more interesting than black, but I also have to be honest and say that huge 1970s cars tend to look good in black. The lack of its original vinyl roof or any other exterior ornamentation is giving it a sinister look (probably what the owner was going for) and making me think of that terrible '70s movie The Car.

02 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 1

When I mentioned going to New York a couple of weekends ago, I may have indicated that I would be writing something about it. So let's not let it get any further into the past before that happens...

It had been four years since I'd visited, and almost that long since the Mrs. and I had been there together, but that one was only an overnighter. After a visit in July of 2011, we'd concluded that we did not really need or want to spend time there again in the depths of summer.  The Mrs. gets a day off for the Massachusetts holiday Patriots Day (commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War), so we decided to plan around that.

We drove down on Friday, making it out of the house around 8:30 am and getting onto the highway not long after, following a coffee stop. The ability to monitor traffic conditions and construction activity via smartphone app makes a big difference in car travel; we were able to avoid the seemingly perpetual construction on 95 southbound in Connecticut by switching over to the Merritt Parkway, which roughly parallels 95 a bit further inland.

Normally we go to whichever hotel we're staying at and check in so we can unload and leave our luggage, then we go and find a spot to leave the car. This can depend on where we are staying, but generally the Village and the East Village have worked out pretty well for us; we've also parked in Brooklyn. Street cleaning takes place either on Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays, and often varies from one side of a street to the other, so signs must be checked carefully.

This time we had plans to meet up with a friend who was already on her way into the city from New Jersey, so the Mrs. wanted to find parking first. We wasted some time because I had her get off FDR Drive too soon, but after we got ourselves into the back and forth of the one-way streets in the East Village, we found an open space on Avenue C a few blocks from Houston St. We took our bags and walked down to Houston, where we got a cab to our hotel.

We've been to the original Bubby's in Tribeca a number of times, but they have opened a new location adjacent to the High Line elevated park and the new Whitney Museum, which was our Friday evening destination, so that's where we ate dinner Friday. Bubby's serves up comfort food and many varieties of pie. The Whitney is a multistory white box facing the Hudson River, with some of the upper floors turned at an angle. It has less character than the previous building on Madison Avenue, but I think it's trying to take a back seat to the artwork on display.

On Saturday we ventured to Staten Island via the ferry to see a former coworker of the Mrs. I'd thought she was going to meet up with us in Manhattan, but the Mrs. wanted the experience of riding the ferry and seeing what the island was like. (The answer to that is: New Jersey, because geographically it ought to be part of that state.) It also looks like a lot of the Boston area, which isn't that surprising. So, been there done that, probably don't need to go back.

We returned to Manhattan and headed for Midtown to do some shopping. Going to Uniqlo isn't as much of a big deal as it was back in 2007 when we first visited the Soho store (they've been offering online shopping in the US for several years and now have stores in Boston and the surrounding suburbs), but the gigantic 5th Avenue store is still something to behold and experience. Muji, another Japanese store, has several stores in Manhattan now, and the one across from the public library is also much larger than the original Soho store. It's deceptive from the street, because most of the space is on the lower level.

After satisfying our shopping urges, we hopped a bus and rode down to the East Village for dinner at Veselka, which has become one of our favorite spots. Open since the mid-1950s, Veselka is like a really good diner/neighborhood place that also happens to serve Eastern European favorites like pierogi and potato pancakes, because it was started by Ukranian immigrants. It's open all night and is lively and fun. Despite its proximity to NYU and Cooper Union, it doesn't seem to draw a large student crowd, but perhaps they don't show up until the wee hours.

After that we retreated to our hotel, and I'll resume with my Sunday morning activities...

21 April 2016

The Gift

Here I am, doing this again... it's been a rough year for musical greatness.

By now I'm sure all of you have heard that Prince died earlier today at his home/studio. The details are as yet unknown, or at least are not yet being shared with the public.

I got a text from a friend saying, "You introduced me to his music." I responded that I was only able to do that because someone else introduced me to it. In this instance, I knew who Prince was, and I had probably heard a couple of his early songs, but it wasn't until my sophomore-year RA, a law student, loaned me his copy of 1999 that my personal experience with Prince's music began.

I grew up in a household where music was on a lot. My father was a big fan of all the Motown artists, plus James Brown, Ray Charles, Sly and the Family Stone, Wilson Pickett, and many others. I knew R&B and soul before I knew any other style or genre of music. And what I loved so much about Prince was how he smashed and fused genres, while at the same time drawing a line from the R&B of the '50s through Jimi Hendrix, 1970s funk, and all kinds of rock, showing us it was all part of a larger whole.

I consider myself really fortunate that I got to see Prince live twice (both times at what used to be called the Worcester Centrum), first on the Purple Rain tour in March of 1985 (the tickets even said "wear something purple" so I wore a skinny purple tie), and then again in October of 1988, the amazing spectacle that was the tour for the album Lovesexy. I wish I could remember more than I do from those shows, but it's enough to know I was there.

He was only 57. That's sad, and also ridiculous. I mean, if anyone was going to be wheeled onto a stage somewhere in his eighties still able to turn a guitar into a flamethrower, it was going to be Prince. That's the thing; we live with the music of a great artist for decades, it becomes a part of us, and it feels like its creator is immortal. Then something happens, and the artist is gone.

But the music does convey immortality, in a way. It lives on, reminding us of all the moments where it played a part in our lives. Being a musician is complex and challenging, but it also gives a gift to the world. Music changes people, transports them, heals them. And I think we're all so lucky to benefit from those gifts, to share our world with these artists. I think it makes being alive so much better.

So let's remember Prince by celebrating what he gave us. He was a goddamn genius.

Update: a fitting tribute from Boston.

19 April 2016

Unexcused Absence

Hello there.

I know it's been awfully quiet around here lately. Life has just been hectic, as it is for many people. For a long time I had the luxury of a job that wasn't all that demanding, which allowed me time during the day to compose ramblings here. Then I was unemployed for a significant chunk of time. Now my work days are busy from start to finish, and I do some extra work at night and on weekends. It's hard enough to motivate myself to do that, so swinging by here often gets pushed aside.

We also just got back from a long weekend away, something we have not been able to do for a while. I may be able to whip up something about that in the next day or so. It was really nice to take a break from everyday life and go do stuff, see friends and family, and have some great meals.

I just want to tell you that I'm not giving up or going away, but maybe temper your expectations about the frequency of postings here. Life goes on...

10 April 2016

Word Salad: That's Not What You Meant

A listing for cell phones contained this nugget: "Photos shows condition of the photos." We assumed they meant to say "phones," and we also corrected the agreement problem.

02 April 2016

Word Salad: Not to Scale

My job continues to provide moments of amusement from the material that I'm checking. We had a listing with the title Assorted Rugs, 7" x 10". No one noticed it before it got to me. The first thing I thought was that they might be for dollhouses, but the dimensions and weight of the shipping pallet did away with that idea pretty quickly. I suppose a Spinal Tap reference would be appropriate, though.

18 March 2016

Retro Video Unit (3/18/16)

You've probably figured out by now that when it comes to music and the artists I choose to feature here, I have a fondness for the obscure. In an era when most of the past century's output of recorded music is available at our fingertips, I relish the idea that there are still bands that most people have never heard of. And I consider it (sort of) my mission to bring them to your attention.

That leads us to The Motors and "Love and Loneliness." Originally part of a scene called "pub rock" (which was something of a cross between bar band and power pop, and also birthed the likes of Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Elvis Costello), their ambitions were much bigger and so was their music. They only released three albums between 1977 and 1980, so they missed the MTV era. I have no idea where this clip comes from, but I'm glad there is at least this opportunity to see the band performing the song.



Go big or go home, right? Unfortunately this clip cuts off both the beginning and end of the song (though the end is just a fade), so in order to get the full experience of it (and the tasty drum fill that opens the song), you can check out this audio-only clip.

Oh, and can someone please get Arcade Fire to cover this? Thanks.

15 March 2016

A New Late-Night Voice

I try to avoid getting into any political stuff in this space, mainly because there are many, many other people who understand politics better than I do and are better qualified to write about the important issues our country is struggling with. But I also haven't hidden my opinions or views, and if you've been coming around for a while you have probably noticed that I align with the more progressive side of things.

That is a preamble to: there's something I think you should watch. Former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee now has her own show on TBS, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. There must be something in the water at the building where The Daily Show is produced, because its alumni are doing some really impressive work. John Oliver's weekly half-hour HBO show Last Week Tonight typically devotes 15 to 20 minutes to a single story, doing long-form think pieces that are also very funny.

Ms. Bee is working in a vein closer to that of The Daily Show, but man, is she killing it. The show's voice grows more confident each week. Last week she examined the state of the Republican party, and... well, like I said, I just think you should watch this:





My only wish is that she might find a wider audience. No offense, TBS, but Samantha Bee is too good for you. But in the meantime, Full Frontal airs Mondays at 10:30 pm (Eastern time).

11 March 2016

Overheard: One Thing Not Necessarily Related to the Other Edition

I stepped outside a few minutes ago to put out some trash and recycling. While I was in the driveway near the back of the house, I heard a voice and saw someone passing by the front of the house, talking loudly on his phone: "I went to Harvard, I don't need to be yelled at!"

08 March 2016

Car Stuff: Off Limits

I still have a few car photos on my phone that I haven't gotten around to posting. This one is from last summer, which is kind of discernible from the bright sunshine and greenery.
That's a 1960 Ford Thunderbird convertible sitting way back in that driveway. (The photo would be sharper if I hadn't had to crop out so much.) I spotted it in Somerville, not far from Union Square. It caught my eye because of the color, which I would be inclined to call turquoise but Ford chose to call "aquamarine." I couldn't quite tell what it was from where I was standing, so I got out my phone, took a shot, and zoomed in.

It appears to be in very decent, driveable condition. It's clean, there are no flat tires, and it looks like it hasn't even been in that spot for long. Maybe it will make an appearance at a car show somewhere. The second-generation Thunderbird is one of the better designs from the otherwise overwrought late 1950s period.

I was about to head back into the yard to take more pictures when I noticed a "No Trespassing" sign on the fence, and thought better of it. I prefer finding cars parked on the street or in motion, but cars parked in driveways or yards are fair game as long as I remain standing on the sidewalk, which is generally not considered a part of one's private property. If there hadn't been a sign, I probably would have ventured closer, but the place looked run-down in general and I didn't need any trouble.

02 March 2016

Word Salad: Rough Guess

From the description of a bra assortment: "Note: The size tag on the bra may be wrong. You might have to figure it for yourself." (The second sentence was deleted before the listing went live.)

29 February 2016

Laundry Solutions Unit: Smoke Gets in Your Clothes

Having purchased plenty of used clothing items over the years, from both thrift shops and eBay, I have occasionally had to deal with the problem of lingering smells. Not gross, sweaty smells, but most commonly tobacco. Sometimes all that's needed is to hang the garment outdoors (I installed a hook on my back porch for this purpose), but sometimes that isn't enough.

With many eBay sellers, they are not selling their own clothing but rather items that they have acquired to resell, so they may not know an item's history. Even if a seller states that they have a nonsmoking home, an item could arrive smelling of smoke. This happened to me a couple of months ago. I bought a flannel shirt, nothing special, for only a few dollars. In this instance I did not pay close attention to the listing regarding info about the household, so it was up to me to try to get rid of the smell.

My first step is always a normal run through the washing machine, but I avoid the dryer because it can "seal in" stains or smells, which is what I think happened to this shirt before I ever got it. Next I soaked the shirt in the washer with some Oxi-Clean, which also yielded no results. I had recently learned that Oxi-Clean now sells a more specialized odor-fighting product, Odor Blasters (I am unclear as to why it's pluralized), so I decided it was time to try it.

The product recommends using hot water, but depending on the garment that might not be a good idea. In this case I went with warm water, and since I soaked the shirt for six hours it didn't stay warm long anyway. The product itself has a fairly strong smell (I generally use unscented detergent and unscented regular Oxi-Clean), so after hanging it in my basement I needed to wait a few days for that smell to dissipate.

Once the Oxi smell had faded I could still detect a smoke smell, but it was much fainter than it had been. I decided to do one more round, and I left the shirt in the machine for longer this time, roughly a whole day. (You can opt for an overnight soak if that's more convenient.) When doing a soak with any Oxi-Clean product, I find that it tends to remain in the fabric, so I run a second rinse cycle to remove it more thoroughly. This time, when the shirt had dried and hung for several days, I couldn't detect any sort of smell except a very, very faint trace of the Oxi. A regular wash will probably get rid of that.

Occasionally I receive an item that has been washed in a very strong-smelling detergent. People do this to reinforce that a garment is clean, which is well-intentioned but unnecessary. I find most detergents have an annoying smell, which is why I prefer ones that are free of perfumes and dyes. I recently got another shirt from eBay that arrived smelling "aggressively clean." A run through the regular wash cycle did not remove the detergent smell, so I again turned to Odor Blasters. This time I soaked the shirt for only an hour, then ran the regular wash and a second rinse cycle. After drying it smelled clean, and nothing more.

Obviously the results will vary depending on the fabric and the nature of the smell, but Odor Blasters has earned its place among my laundry products.

23 February 2016

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #42

Since I am working at home I don't have to deal with a commute, which means I can get up a bit later. But I don't sleep in too long; I try to allow enough pre-work time to tidy up the kitchen, eat breakfast, and take care of any small tasks before I start my workday. I realized that with proper time management, I can probably squeeze in some early-morning blog posts.

I have definitely neglected the car category. Back in September when I was commuting to Harvard Square daily, I was looking out the window of the bus one morning as we passed the garage where I had spotted a couple of cars about a year earlier. I wasn't able to get my phone out in enough time to get any pictures, and then on at least one subsequent day I forgot to sit on the correct side of the bus, and then one day it was raining, and so on. It took a while for all the conditions to line up properly to get these shots.
The modern Dodge Challenger isn't that uncommon a sight, but examples of the original 1970-74 variety are not seen much outside of car shows. Initially I noticed the car because it was red, and tucked up against the building like this, it wasn't so easy to get good photos of it. I happened to pass this spot on weekends during this time, but the car was never around when the garage was closed, so I had to make do with these shots.
The Challenger was Dodge's version of the Plymouth Barracuda, which was Chrysler Corporation's attempt to offer a competitor to the Mustang and Camaro (and a car I have talked about before). But the Barracuda was never a strong seller, and by the time the Challenger arrived as a 1970 model, the muscle-car era was already in decline, and personal-luxury cars were the hot new category. Both Barracuda and Challenger were dropped after 1974. This appears to be a '70, and while I thought it might have been a higher-performance R/T model, it lacks the correct hood.

18 February 2016

Word Salad: So Close...

My current job involves proofreading for an e-commerce website. The product listings are prepared by the sellers, which occasionally results in some awkwardly formed constructions. Some of them are (unintentionally) amusing so I've decided to share periodically, starting with this one:

"Please note that the flat rate shipping cost is only for the 48 continuous states."

13 February 2016

Retro Video Unit (2/12/16)

It's well past time to restart this feature; I keep thinking about it, and then I either forget again, or my time gets consumed by other things, as it tends to these days. This song has been in my head for a couple of weeks, but it was only two or three days ago that I remembered that there was a video for it.

Back in 1980 I was not an ardent fan of The Who, but I certainly knew their music and liked it. I was absorbing a lot of music at the time, both older (1960s and '70s bands I was familiarizing myself with) and current (early new wave). When Pete Townshend released the solo album Empty Glass, it got a fair amount of airplay on WBCN (which was my main outlet for new music at the time), plus I had a high school friend who was an ardent Who fan, so naturally he jumped on Empty Glass.

In that pre-MTV era, some performers were making early music videos, sometimes at the urging of their record companies. Townshend's video for "Rough Boys" showed up on late-night TV. I was also quite enamored of the Fender Telecaster (the less-flashy sibling of the Stratocaster) at the time, so seeing him play one in the video got my attention.


04 February 2016

Long Hours and '80s TV Homages

Still very busy over here, working the regular job plus trying to find at least a few hours each week for the additional work (which pays much better hourly, but is a project that will only last a couple more months at most). My main job is quite mentally exhausting, so it's been difficult to give up my free time to do the other stuff, but having the first couple of checks come in from that has been nice.

I've been trying to come up with post ideas, but at 11:30 pm my brain is generally not offering much in the way of creativity these days. However, a trailer for the upcoming seventh season of Archer surfaced this week, and it's so brilliant that I decided I needed to share it.



And if you need any further convincing (unlikely if you spent any time watching Magnum, P.I.) as to just how precise this is, the internet has graciously cooperated with a side-by-side comparison:


30 January 2016

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (1/29/16)

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything for either this feature or my biweekly one focusing on individual music videos. I'm trying to correct that in '16 and this happens to be where I've chosen to start...

As I was working yesterday I had my LCD Soundsystem albums playing in iTunes. I have the band's three studio albums, plus a "workout track" consisting of one long recording and a few other songs. Not being as up on new(er) music as I used to be, I came to the band relatively late, maybe only a couple of years before they broke up and performed their final concerts in 2011.

I've liked electronic dance music since the first such songs started trickling out of the UK back in the new wave period (though I think the argument can be made for Giorgio Moroder's Donna Summer recordings as well), and my friends know how much I like the band Underworld, but I'm pretty fussy about my electronica. So when I say that I really, really like LCD Soundsystem, it's not just lip service. James Murphy's ironic detachment is perfect for the era we're living in, and I am always intrigued by the idea of playing dance music with both synthesizers and real instruments.

The band released a movie of their final concert called Shut Up and Play the Hits. It's on Netflix, and I've seen it. I did not expect to find that on YouTube because it would be a copyright violation, but there appears to be a recording of the entire concert—more than three hours long—made by a fan. Unfortunately there's an unacceptable amount of camera movement; if that sort of thing doesn't bother you, then it's easy enough to find. I did find a concert from Brussels in 2010 and decided to post that:



Now comes word that the band is reuniting, and will be performing at festivals this year and also releasing a new album. This is exciting news, and maybe I'll even get to see them live.

25 January 2016

On the Rise

Since I was talking about music earlier today, I felt like sharing this. Her name is Jess Glynne and she is poised for big things; watch this and you'll see why:



I saw this young woman's performance last week on The Daily Show, where this clip is from. These days I don't get really moved by too much new music, but she had me hooked within the first ten seconds. If there is any justice in this world, she will be huge by summer. If you like Adele, or Florence and the Machine, you will like this.

(Edit: sorry about the autoplaying video; I have replaced it with the one form YouTube)

Checking Back In

Wow, where did that week go? They have been feeling like I'm in a tunnel lately. I emerge from the tunnel for weekends, but as I said to the Mrs. last night, it almost didn't even feel like I'd had two days off. And just like that, it's Monday morning again.

I didn't write anything about the passing of Glenn Frey last week. With apologies to him, I never felt about The Eagles the way I did about David Bowie. The Eagles were a constant presence on Top 40 FM radio during my formative years in the 1970s, so of course I knew their songs. But I never owned any of their albums, not even Hotel California. Their music was always there on the radio, like background music, and I didn't feel strongly enough about it to want to be able to play it whenever I chose. By the end of the decade I had embraced new wave, and figuratively turned my back on much of what was coming out of the Top 40 stations.

That said, 67 is quite a young age at which to go. It's also a reminder that none of us knows how much time we have. It sounds corny, but every day is a gift.

18 January 2016

Migration Issues

Where were we? Oh right, new iMac. Big screen, lots of RAM, faster wi-fi, fast hard drive. It checked all the boxes for me. Remember, too, that I am working at home (two jobs, in fact, these days), so I also saw my new hardware purchase as an investment in improved productivity.

One of the little things that makes someone like me a loyal Apple partisan (for nearly 25 years at this point) is a utility called Migration Assistant that allows you, with relative ease, to transfer everything from an old Mac to a new one. Files, photos, music, web bookmarks and passwords—all of it transposed, as if you had cloned your old computer's brain onto a new hardware host. It's a simple and relatively painless way to switch everything over when you get a new Mac.

In the old days (ten years ago), the two Macs had to be connected by a cable, and then there's a bit of trickery called Target Disk Mode (really, just holding down a particular key combination while starting up) that allows the older Mac's hard drive to appear on the desktop of the new Mac; from there it's really easy to run the Migration Assistant. Here in 2016, this can also be accomplished using wi-fi and does not require Target Disk Mode, or for the computers to be connected by a cable.
(new iMac on the right)
Or so I thought. In trying to be modern and using wi-fi, I think I opened myself up to some trouble. The migration also took a lot longer over wi-fi than I expected, something like seven hours. When it was finally finished (I had gone away to do other things), not only could I not find some of my stuff (my photos seemed to be fine), but I could not open a number of programs: Spotify, the Firefox browser, the Chrome browser. And I was getting weird error messages about them: "profile is missing," "error type 6," that sort of thing. Huh? And my Bluetooth trackpad would not connect to the new Mac, either.

Without the use of Firefox and all my bookmarks and passwords, I could not use the new iMac for my jobs, which are done almost entirely via web browser; I ended up having it sit off to the side on my desk while I spent the next several days continuing to use my old one for work. I knew a call to AppleCare was in my future, and since I imagined it could take a while, I had to wait until the next weekend to ensure I had enough time.

That didn't go so well. Apple was not interested in helping me with the Firefox problem because Firefox is not Apple software. Apple, naturally, wants its users to use Safari, but there are a number of things about the way Safari does stuff that irritate me to varying degrees, so I tend to stay away from it. They couldn't help me with Spotify either. Their suggestion in both cases was to delete and reinstall the software; that did not work in either instance.

While I was on the phone with Apple, I figured out the Bluetooth problem on my own. It's embarrassingly stupid, but we're all friends here, so I don't mind sharing. If a Bluetooth device is paired with a particular computer, and you want to use it with a different computer, you must first un-pair them so it is "discoverable" by the other computer. But then, you must also TURN OFF BLUETOOTH on the old computer so it can't interfere while you are trying to get the device to pair with the new computer. Head-smackingly simple, yet not obvious to me for more than a week.

After that small victory, I started to think about the whole migration process. And the more I thought about it, it seemed pretty obvious to me that the migration had missed a bunch of stuff; I wondered why it wasn't obvious to the AppleCare techs. I decided to delete the incomplete user profile that had been created during the migration and redo the whole thing, this time using the older method. One small hurdle: Apple had abandoned Firewire for another high-speed date transfer technology called Thunderbolt. But I'd had to obtain a Firewire-to-Thunderbolt adapter from the Apple store anyway, in order to continue using my external hard drive for backups, so I was ready to roll.

The second migration, with the two iMacs connected via cable and employing Target Disk Mode, took under three hours (less than half the time of the first one) and was completely successful, right down to my desktop picture (Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks). It's very satisfying to be able to resolve these things oneself, which is another reason I have been a Mac user for so long. And while I don't think there will be any other Mac migrations in my near future (I'm hoping to be able to get close to a decade's use from this new one), if one does happen to come about, I know I won't be using wi-fi.

16 January 2016

Car Stuff: Base Coat

Last Friday morning I was seized with the urge for an egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast sandwich. When I last worked full-time outside my home (not this past summer, but back a few years ago) I got one every Friday morning. I alternated between bacon and sausage, because I think to get the exact same thing each and every week is just a little too boring of a routine.

Fortunately there's a little diner joint within walking distance. I tend to forget about it, but a month or so ago I was on my way back home from an early-morning medical appointment and stopped for some sustenance. It was then that I discovered they also have bagels, and pretty good ones at that. I don't know if they make them; I neglected to ask, but they have the "everything" variety that I prefer, and they have bacon and scallion cream cheese, so that day I ended up getting both the breakfast sandwich and a bagel for "second breakfast," and last Friday I did the same thing.
On my way back home I saw a car I'd featured a while back, this 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix. It was parked on a side street behind a bank, but without its distinctive yellow paint. The primer is presumably in preparation for a repaint. I knew it was the same vehicle due to those strange, unfortunate wheels. (Surely there must be a set of Rally II's on eBay?) It has also lost its vinyl roof, but perhaps that's also going to be replaced.

I am looking forward to seeing this car around again after its repaint has been completed. I don't even care if it gets redone in the same color, I'm just glad to see someone putting effort into caring for it.

13 January 2016

New Hardware

Over the past several months, we've been making some hardware upgrades here at SAR Studios (a wholly owned subsidiary of Chaos Productions Ltd.*), in order to serve you ourselves better. I've been fortunate that I have not had to deal with any significant computer issues, as some of my friends have. But as time passes, even solid equipment can become obsolete.

For most of last year I was hounded by my cable company (whose name rhymes with Bombast) about my cable modem, which was at least a decade old. I was warned repeatedly that my modem had reached "end of life" status. What that meant, exactly, was not clear; it still worked, but there was an ominous suggestion that there would come a time when the company might no longer support it. I had chosen to purchase the modem in order to avoid an indefinite monthly fee, so it was up to me to acquire a replacement.

I'd happened to read an article on The Wirecutter (a useful and highly recommended site) on this very topic, and based on their advice I decided to purchase what was basically a several-generations-newer version of what I had. The going price at the time was around $90, but in September I was able to purchase a refurbished model for $50, which was more in line with what I wanted to spend.

The next step was my wireless router, which I'd had at least as long as the cable modem, or maybe even longer. All the devices we're using on our wireless network are capable of faster speeds than the router could provide, so a couple of months later I found another deal on an Apple AirPort base station (what Apple insists on calling its routers). Replacing a router in an existing home network is a bit further beyond the level of tech stuff than what I'm used to, so I invoked the assistance of my old college friend Dr. Hackenbush, who resides far from here in a land of pickup trucks and guns. Through the miracle of FaceTime he was able to guide me through the process (thanks again, Dr. H!), and I had the network cruising along again in a couple of hours.

That left my computer, an iMac with a 24" screen. It dated to 2008, and it had been my work computer until I left my job in 2012 (don't worry, we were allowed to take them with us as a "parting gift" of sorts). One of the first improvements one can make to an older computer is to add RAM. The iMac had 4 gigabytes of RAM out of a possible 6; why it wasn't built to allow expansion up to 8 is a question only Apple can answer, but it did not seem worth it to add only 2 more gigs.

New iMacs and Mac minis no longer have the option to add RAM after you've purchased the computer; you have to buy what you think you'll need, or risk having programs run more and more slowly years down the road. Of course, Apple charges a premium for this: to double the RAM in a new Mac from 8 gb to 16 adds $200. I found a new, unsold 2013 iMac, the last model with user-upgradeable RAM, that also had the latest, fastest wi-fi standard that my new router supports, along with a faster-spinning hard drive and the larger 27" screen size I wanted. That ended up being my Christmas present to myself. Doubling the RAM and installing it myself was $45 instead of $200.

Next time, I'll tell you about what happens when you move from an older Mac to a newer one, or rather, what's supposed to happen.

(*Those of you who have known me the longest will likely recall the genesis of the Chaos brand; no slight is meant to any other readers, and perhaps I'll go into some details and dig into the "archives" at some point.)

11 January 2016

Early Influence

I woke up to the news that David Bowie had left us over the weekend. Part of the surprise comes from not knowing he was ill (he was always intensely private, for which I respected him) and part because his latest album had just been released on Friday, which was also his birthday. I tended to think of him as a perennial, a rock star who managed to age with grace and dignity and who used that longevity to inform his songwriting. I admit I have not always followed Bowie's career closely, but I have always been aware and appreciative of his work.

There have been other musician deaths that hit me particularly hard (Joe Strummer comes immediately to mind), but Bowie's significance in my life was due to another reason. My interest in music developed early, thanks to my father's albums: Motown, soul, R&B. There was music playing in our house a lot, and the sense of it is one of my earliest memories (though I realize it's not a memory of a specific person, thing, or event).

My first music purchases were 45s. The first album I bought with my own money was a Partridge Family LP. There were a couple more of those, and a John Denver album. But the first rock album I ever bought, at age 11, was Bowie's ChangesOne, a hits collection that came out in 1975. For me there has always been tremendous significance in that choice. It was informed, as was almost every other music purchase I made at the time, by what I heard on the radio. (The 1970s was truly a golden era for Top-40 FM radio, with a variety reflecting the sales charts.)

David Bowie's music showed me, for the first time, that there could be deeper meaning in a song beyond the melody and lyrics. I'm sure I didn't understand everything that was being conveyed in those songs at the time, but that album was the experience that taught me how music could make you feel. And that's really the whole point of it, right?

Some time back I read an article about him, and his wife Iman was quoted as saying that he liked walking around in New York, where they lived, because he typically went unrecognized. After that I used to fantasize that I might encounter him on one of our visits to the city. I wouldn't make a big deal about it, I'd just smile and nod in his direction as we passed on a sidewalk. It would have been tempting to talk to him and tell him what his music meant to me, but I think verbalizing it would have diminished its significance. Thank you, David, for all the doors your music opened to me.

04 January 2016

The Year's First Conundrum

What the hell are "squad goals"? Perhaps it's time for me to disengage from pop culture a bit more...

30 December 2015

End of Year Reflections

[Apologies for the silence around here lately. In addition to work and holiday stuff, I got an early Christmas present last week: a cold. It's mostly gone now, but it definitely kept me from tending to some of the things I wanted to be doing.]

Christmas is over and we're counting down the last few days of the year. At this time we naturally become reflective on the months that have passed. While this has not been what I would call a banner year (that fourth Super Bowl championship banner aside), there has definitely been progress.

I started 2015, as I did '14 and '13, without a job. I was well beyond disappointment and frustration with my situation, and was starting to think it would be necessary to return to dreaded retail in order to sustain myself. A former supervisor offered me a bit of freelance work, and then in April I was hired by a grocery-shopping service, but I got only three shifts during my first several weeks, so it became clear that option was not viable.

In May and early June, a couple of work-at-home temp assignments came my way. Both were relatively short in duration but put my skills to use. While I was working on the second of those, the agency offered me a three-month onsite assignment. I was hoping it might turn into a permanent job; it did not, but I was asked to stay for an additional month. Another assignment offer came soon after, which catches us up to today.

Working at home full-time is an odd experience. Depending on where one lives, it may or may not be possible to go out for lunch. In my case I've had to make the effort on weekends to plan ahead and have food on hand for daily lunches. The hours are a little awkward, and I'm busy pretty much all day, so I don't really have time to deal with little personal stuff like most office workers are able to.

Being home means I am also responsible for the dog's needs, which at this point are many and frequent. Before starting that temp gig in June, I was also home and taking care of her, but over the past six months or so, with age and increasing frailty, she's come to need us more than ever. When she appears, roughly every couple of hours, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and take her out, or feed her, or both. Handling it all has been challenging, but at the same time I'm glad that I am able to be here for her.

So my life is feeling somewhat circumscribed at the moment. I have episodes of several TV shows on the DVR that I have not found time to watch. And that isn't going to get any easier, as I have agreed to take another freelance assignment in order to make up for what my main job is (not) paying me. Everything is very stressful, and that's not something I'm used to dealing with.

But as I have said to a couple of people, I have to look at this year as a net positive. These are steps that I need to take as I work to restore my circumstances to what they were before I was laid off. I enjoyed my work and was able to live satisfactorily and comfortably from it. There seem to be more jobs now, and anecdotally I think that people my age and older are doing a little bit better than they were a couple of years ago. Obviously I will continue to blog, but let's check back in at the end of next December and see where things are...

23 December 2015

Six Flicks (Give or Take)

My friend Just Bud Fox is the only person I know well who's on Tumblr. Last week he posted a response to a challenge of sorts, one of these things that goes around and after you have given your answer you get to tag others to provide theirs.

The request was, "name six movies you can watch any time," and even though I'm not a Tumblr-er, I thought it would be a fun exercise to do this myself. It doesn't necessarily mean these are my favorite movies, though it's likely there would be some overlap. They are just ones that I find watchable enough to revisit frequently. As I tend to do when compiling such lists, I'm arranging them alphabetically. Also, like JBF, I couldn't keep it to just six.

The Blues Brothers (1980): "We're on a mission from God." I was a few weeks shy of 17 when this came out, and I had already been indoctrinated into the cult, so to speak, courtesy of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's performances as Elwood and Jake on Saturday Night Live and the album they had released. It's a very funny movie and it has a bunch of great songs in it, but I think what really did it for me was the sheer scale of the mayhem being perpetrated. Movies have been trying to outdo the destruction ever since, but in my humble opinion few have gotten close while keeping that spirit of fun.

Heat (1995): I really wanted to have a Michael Mann movie on this list, and the obvious choice for me would be 1986's Manhunter, the first screen adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, in which he introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter. (Side note: I will always prefer Brian Cox's interpretation of that character to Anthony Hopkins'.) But it has always bothered me that Mann chose to deviate from the book's ending to go for something much more typically Hollywood, and if I'm being honest, Heat is a far more engrossing movie. It's about a group of bank robbers planning a huge heist; it runs 2 hours and 45 minutes and doesn't feel more than maybe five minutes too long. It's one of the best crime movies in recent decades, and boasts the only onscreen appearance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the same scene.

L.A. Confidential (1997): Yes, I like crime movies. This one came pre-sold to me because I was already a big fan of the book and its author, James Ellroy. I thought the movie did an excellent job of bringing the sprawling noir story and the early 1950's time period to life on screen, and it's full of actors doing great work: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger (who won a best supporting actress Oscar), David Strathairn; even Danny DeVito has a nice turn in this one.

The Matrix (1999): This is likely as close as we're ever going to get to a film version of William Gibson's Neuromancer, which is fine with me. The best way to watch this is to ignore all the pop-philosophy stuff and just enjoy the ride. The visual effects were a genuine revelation and still look amazing today.

Ocean's Eleven (2001): This one just checks so many boxes for me, though I kind of wish someone other than Julia Roberts had been cast as Tess, but that's really just a minor complaint. Movies are meant to be a source of enjoyment, and for that it's hard to top this one. The cast, the characters, the dialogue, the way it's filmed and lit, Brad Pitt constantly eating...

Ronin (1998): A different sort of heist movie, one with a twist: a group of mercenaries is assembled in Europe to acquire a particular case, but the members don't know what's in it, or who wants it. De Niro again, in one of his more low-key roles (not a bad thing at all), with Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, and others, plus some of the absolute best car chase work ever put on film.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984): I'm not sure if this was the first "mockumentary" or not, but I think it's still the standard by which all other aspirants should be judged. Another brilliant blend of music and comedy, everything about this movie is just spot-on and perfect, and the utter deadpan seriousness of everyone involved is what sells it.

Wanted (2008): This action vehicle about a secret league of assassins charged with keeping the world in balance is utterly ridiculous, and an absolute blast. It's terribly violent and should NEVER be seen by children, but it has buckets of style and boasts a cast that works to invest you in the far-fetched story, led by James McAvoy alongside Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Common, and a younger Chris Pratt in a supporting role.

18 December 2015

Festive

I guess it's starting to feel like Christmas, even though outside it feels more like early November. Not that I'm complaining; I keep hearing people say, "We're saving money on heat," and I can certainly get behind that.

There are always a decent number of houses in my neighborhood that decorate, and if I get ambitious I might go out and take some photos. But I was out with the dog the other night and happened to be across the street from our house, where we don't typically walk at night. After I brought her back inside, I went back out to get a quick pic.
That's SAR HQ on the right; the upstairs neighbors started decorating last year, after that apartment transitioned from having three unrelated single residents to a couple, with one member who's quite enthusiastic about the season. (There are also lights in that small square window above the mailboxes, but they weren't turned on.) Our next-door neighbor decorates every year, and I welcome the display, as much for the added brightness it brings to our block as for any other reason.

15 December 2015

Car Stuff: Where Are They Now?

The days keep getting away from me, making it difficult to get as much accomplished as I'd like. That includes blogging. But we persevere, as we must.

I spotted today's entry on my way home from work one day at the end of August, sitting on the bus just outside Sullivan Square station, waiting for traffic to move and thinking about how the bus part of the T could work so much better if buses were able to enter and exit stations with some sort of priority... but that's a digression. I looked out the window and saw a spot of bright red.
Hey, it's a fourth-generation (1988-91) Honda Civic! And it might even be an Si model (the sunroof suggests this), but it's difficult to tell from just this glimpse. Also, sorry it's blurry but my on-the-fly photography is often not great.

When these cars were new they were ubiquitous, at least around here. People wanted (and still want) a car that was practical, economical, reliable, and manageable in city streets and traffic. In fact, the Mrs. had one, a four-door with a five-speed manual transmission. But a while back I realized that they've vanished; unlike some older economy cars, you just never see these anymore. (The same is true for the generation that followed, which many people, including myself, think was the best Civic ever made.)

That's really why I wanted to get a pic of this car, even a fuzzy one: it's just such an uncommon sight these days.

13 December 2015

Retro Video Unit (12/11/15-ish)

There are some good '80s music playlists on Spotify, and I've found that I can listen to music while working without it being too much of a distraction (more challenging with some types of work than others) if I keep the volume low and my brain is familiar with the songs. One list in particular I've been listening to has something like 700 songs on it, so I don't like every single one on it but in general it's music I know and enjoy.

As such it's been giving me suggestions to feature here, but once again I've run into that situation where there's no official video for some songs. But because I like this particular song so much, I found a decent live version that's going to have to stand in for a video: "Reap the Wild Wind" by Ultravox, from the 1982 album Quartet.


08 December 2015

Car Stuff: Unabashedly Basic

On my last day working in Harvard Square, a week before Halloween, I was out at lunchtime and spotted this dark green Chevrolet Nova on Church Street, next to the First Parish Unitarian Church. (It's kind of blurry because I had to crop out quite a lot.)
From the other side of the street, at first I wasn't quite sure of what I was seeing. Chevrolet made millions of Novas, but they are a rare sight today. This design was made for model years 1968 to 1972, and hardly anything changed during that time, but the orange turn signal lenses in the front bumper identify this car as a '72. And those wheel covers appear in the brochure fir that year, but there's no way to know if these are original to the car.

What I love about cars like this, from this time period, is that they were practical, simple, basic transportation, relatively economical to own and operate. But Detroit was already in the throes of Broughamification, an obsession with dressing up every vehicle that would end up working against it.

04 December 2015

Retro Video Unit (Pseudo-Retro Edition)

I know I haven't posted any music videos in a while. I'm going to get back to that, but for now how about a bit of silliness in the form of a faux video?

Kroll Show ended its three-season run on Comedy Central back in March after skewering just about every TV and pop-culture trope imaginable. One of my favorite bits was this spoof of a certain kind of video for a certain kind of song by a certain kind of band in the late 1980s.

So, here's "LA Deli" by Sloppy Secondz featuring Nash Rickey. Man, do I miss this show...


03 December 2015

Checks and Layers

Some of you who've been hanging around for a while may remember a few years back my interest in a buffalo-plaid wool shirt that J. Crew was selling under its Wallace & Barnes sub-brand. I thought it was rather overpriced, and even after it went on sale, I could not find my size available. I consoled myself with a vintage Woolrich shirt that I found on eBay, but it never quite satisfied me, because unfortunately I have a problem with being satisfied. (That's something we probably don't need to get into here...)

Eventually the item sold out. Jump to this fall, and it's back (if it's not the exact same item, it's very, very close), and at a slightly lower but still somewhat overly ambitious $148. (I'm not a retailing expert, but J. Crew's aspirational pricing is probably a significant factor in their recent struggles.) For the sake of comparison, the traditional Woolrich buffalo plaid shirt is currently selling for $119, though they have gone and ruined it with that light blue inner collar lining, perhaps to drive customers to the more recent made-in-USA version, which is going for $195.

Or, if all of those are too rich for your blood, you could head over to your local Old Navy (or visit online) for a much more reasonably priced facsimile. At its $50 "regular" price, this is kind of a no-brainer, though it's very easy to get it for less during one of their many sales; I picked up one for half price during their pre-Thanksgiving sale. To be fair and accurate, their version is only 50% wool (the rest is polyester and "other fibers"), so it's going to pill a little more than a shirt with a higher wool content, but you wouldn't wear this next to your skin anyway (layering, right?) so you won't really feel the difference, and the fabric is substantial and heavy so it will provide some decent warmth.

I will say that in person, the red is slightly darker than it looks in the photos, and I find that a bit disappointing, but it's a trifle. I'm not sure how long this will last, but for $25 I'm going to wear the hell out of it.

01 December 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #41

(Looking back at the last several months of car posts, I now realize that the Fiero should have been RS #40, so even though I gave that post a different title, I'm proceeding as though I did include it in the numbers...)
What we have here is a rather uncommon 1980s artifact, a second-generation Volkswagen Scirocco. This car has been hanging out along the stretch of College Avenue between Powder House Square (which is, in fact, a circle) and the Tufts campus. I spotted it during the summer when I was taking the bus into Harvard Square.
Actually, I spotted it from the car one Saturday evening when we were on our way to get burritos in Davis Square, and then I saw it soon after from the bus. I kept seeing it, and tried on several occasions to snap a decent photo as I rode past it, but none of those worked out.
Finally, during the week after I finished the Harvard Square temp job, I was out doing a few things and was on my way back home via the same bus route. I saw the car again from the bus, and decided to get off at the next stop so I could take as many pictures as I wanted.
The Scirocco first appeared in the mid-1970s, based on the Rabbit platform but with a decidedly more sporting character. The second generation appeared in 1982 and was sold in the US through 1989. (After a long hiatus, VW revived the model and introduced a third generation in 2008, but it has never been offered for sale in North America.)

Curbside Classic has excellent writeups on both generations; you can find the first one here, and the second one here.

29 November 2015

Of Dogs and Driveways

I had a weird encounter one day last week, and I've been meaning to write about it. I was out with the dog before starting my work day, and a neighbor was having a new asphalt driveway installed. Since the dog tends to be nosy about people, she wanted to check out the workers, and we were heading in that direction anyway.

A guy who appeared to be in charge was standing by his car, talking on the phone. As we approached he finished, saw us, and asked, "Whippet or greyhound?" I answered greyhound, he looked over the dog for a moment or two, then said, "Your dog's in pain, it's time to put her to sleep."

Now, I have mentioned before that our dog is 14, and she has been dealing with some pain from arthritis, mainly in in her hind legs. We give her medication for it twice a day, and we pay very careful attention to her movement and behavior. We are always on the watch for any signs that she is in greater discomfort, or that her overall condition might be worsening. And I suppose it's possible this guy had some experience working with racing dogs. But however well-intentioned he may have been, it's highly presumptuous to say such a thing to a stranger. So I responded only by saying, "It's not time yet. We'll know when it is."

Then, as if things weren't weird enough already, he moved around the corner, toward where a few other men were finishing removing dirt from the driveway area before beginning the asphalt pour, gestured toward the waiting truck, and said, "You want some of this? We're definitely gonna have some left over." I didn't know how to respond, so I remained silent, and he kept going: "Where do you live? I'll just bring the truck around when we're finished."

For a moment I considered accepting his offer. Our driveway has parallel depressions from the car driving over it repeatedly, and I thought it might be nice to get those filled in. But I didn't want to get involved in dealing with asphalt without talking to our landlord, and I also did not know if it would be a bad idea to cover our older driveway surface with new asphalt, or the ramifications of covering only a small portion of the surface. So I thanked him for the offer and said I had to get back inside, which was true.

26 November 2015

Checking In

Still here, still really busy. I'm also working slightly off hours, so I'm frequently not finished until 7:30 or 8 pm, leaving precious little time to relax and even less time to think about blog posts.

I have car show photos gong back several months, but I haven't had time to pull them together into a post. I had an idea for something else I wanted to write about crawl through my brain a couple of times, but of course right now, when I have a few minutes, I can't get it back. (I knew I should have made a written note about it.)

But I do have a long holiday weekend to enjoy like many other people, so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Enjoy yourselves.

18 November 2015

Status: Busy

Hi. Yeah, I know. Work is keeping me very busy. Like, really, really busy. I honestly can't say when I will get time to make a meaningful contribution here. But I'm not going to put the blog on hiatus; I'm just saying, it may be quiet around here for a bit.

11 November 2015

Car Stuff: Out of Context

Working in Harvard Square this summer, I spotted a few interesting cars, like the MGB I posted a while back. Some vehicles were a bit more unusual, like this Jeep Cherokee.
Two-door versions of this generation Cherokee are very rare; this could be as old as the mid-1980s, and I think no newer than early '90s. It certainly stands out in the Square. It appeared ready to set off on a safari; perhaps it belongs to a globe-trotting relic hunter, a modern-day Indiana Jones?
My big regret is that earlier in the summer I saw it with its doors removed, like a classic open-top Jeep Wrangler, but by the time I figured out that I should be taking pictures of it, the doors had been put back on.

09 November 2015

Duty Calls

Things have been bubbling lately. Temp jobs have come and gone, for reasons not worth going into here, and now I'm about to start my first sustained experience as a remote worker. I've accepted a long-term assignment with a company where everyone works remotely.

That doesn't mean I'm going to be one of those coffee-shop people; for one thing, I don't care for laptops. No, it means I'm going to be working from home, staying in touch with my coworkers via daily online "meetings" and chat software. My training begins tomorrow, so by the end of the week I should have a clearer picture of how it's going to work.

As for how it will affect blogging, that remains to be seen. I don't yet have any sense of how busy I'm going to be during the day. I'll also be dealing with the dog, who has become quite demanding in her advanced age: when we are home, she needs to go out every two to three hours, on average, and wants food almost as frequently.

05 November 2015

Econo-Case

A new phone usually means a new case. Over the past few years I have tried some different styles, including top-opening sleeve and book style. But although I've been working again for several months, I'm still trying to be careful with money, and spending another $40 or $50 for a new iPhone case may not be the most prudent move, at least not yet.

I decided to take an economical approach this time. I happened to follow a link to an eBay seller offering silicone slip-on sleeves for $1.50 (that's not a typo) with free shipping. They even offer a choice of five or six colors. I was going to get clear but since my phone is black and gray I decided to get a gray-tinted sleeve. It isn't super-snug but it offers at least a minimum of protection, and makes the phone easier to grip (the aluminum body of the iPhone can be somewhat slippery).

I may decide to upgrade the case at some point in the future, possibly to something in a similar style but done in leather. But for now this one will do.

02 November 2015

Car Stuff: Employee Parking

On the far side of the inbound Orange Line tracks at Wellington station, there is a repair facility for Orange Line train cars. Along the outside of that building is an access road where MBTA employees can park. The majority of the cars parked there on any given day tends to be pretty ordinary, but this one stood out.
It's a Porsche, probably 1980s vintage, and probably a 944, though I'm not terribly knowledgeable about identifying Porsche models. I know that cars with this basic body were first sold as the 924, starting as a 1976 model ('77 in the USA), and that the 944, which arrived in 1982, was an evolution of the original design. The blistered fenders are the biggest giveaway that this is a 944 and not a 924, though there are other small visual differences. (There was also a later car, the 968, also using the same basic body but with higher front fenders.)

31 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/30/15)

Happy Halloween! This seemed to fit the mood...


30 October 2015

Phone Quest '15

It's that time of year... when my thoughts wander to the idea of getting a new iPhone. Actually it's been an every-other-year thing, since that's what my provider and plan allowed, but I got my 5S almost two years ago. I thought my upgrade eligibility date was at the beginning of December, but that was my contract date; a few days ago I was in my phone account online and saw that I had hit my eligibility date for a new phone.

I had also considered switching to T-Mobile, because I like the way they have been pushing the mobile industry to adopt policies that are more consumer-friendly. One of these (that so far I don't think other carriers have embraced) is that music streaming does not count toward your monthly data usage. T-Mobile is also offering the new iPhone 6S for $10/month if you trade in an iPhone 5S (or just $5/month with trade-in of last year's iPhone 6) and join their payment plan/annual upgrade option. But the Mrs. has been disinclined toward getting a smartphone of any kind for a long while, and T-Mobile has only smartphones these days (and one flip-style phone), so I did not think switching would work for us.

I'm sure a lot of you know that all the big mobile carriers, spurred by T-Mobile, have been moving away from phone subsidies (how we used to get new phones, with an upfront payment) and into a somewhat more transparent approach, separating the cost of the phone from the cost of the plan. This means that more of us will be getting our phones via monthly payment options. One advantage to this method is that there is usually an option to upgrade after a certain period of time and a certain number of payments have been made, i.e. annual upgrades instead of every two years.

I read an article in last week's Personal Technology section of the New York Times comparing the payment plans of all four major phone carriers, as well as to the costs of paying full price for a new phone up front. That's what led me to look at my account online. I also learned that customers who opt into Verizon's payment-plan program get a discount on the service portion of their plan, so on a monthly basis I would be paying roughly the same amount, plus I'll be able to trade in and get the iPhone 7 when it arrives next fall. The initial cost amounts to the sales tax on the full price of the phone. (Note: even if you're a Verizon customer, your plan may be different.)

When I upgraded two years ago I was able to order the phone to pick up in one of Verizon's stores. This time that option was not offered, so it shipped to me via FedEx. Delivery was Wednesday, so I made a point of staying home because I knew I would have to sign for the package. Of course the dog still needs to go out, every couple of hours these days, and of course I missed the delivery because I was out with the dog. But the tag left by the driver indicated that I could pick up my package after 6 pm that evening at a FedEx facility in South Boston.

And of course it was raining quite hard Wednesday, but that didn't deter me. I figured out where I needed to go, way down Summer Street past the convention center and the cruise ship terminal and across the Reserved Channel. Fortunately the 7 bus passes right by, and it's a short walk from the Downtown Crossing T station to where the 7 boards on Otis St. The bus was packed, and the windows were all fogged up so I couldn't see out, but I could tell more or less where we were and managed to squeeze my way out of the bus at the correct stop.

Once I got to the FedEx facility, it took less than three minutes to get my package. If you ever need to go down there, there's plenty of parking, the people working there are pleasant, and it's open until 9 pm on weeknights. If it hadn't been pouring it would have been a piece of cake, just another errand.