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.

27 October 2015

Car Stuff: On the Way to Work

During my summer commutes I noticed some interesting old cars, all along the route of the 86 bus between Union Square and Harvard Square, and with a bit of effort I was able to get photos of them.

The first one I spotted was nothing more than a bumper and tail lights in a driveway; I had to wait until I passed the house again to get a better look. Eventually I ended up getting off the bus in order to get better pictures.
It turned out to be an early '70s Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. This rear bumper/light design was used for model years 1971-73, but the '73 did not have vent windows so this one must be either a '71 or '72. Since I've already established that I want one of these (or its Plymouth cousin) in the Fantasy Garage, I was pretty excited to see it.

A few blocks away I spotted this parked in another driveway:
After a couple more mornings I figured out it was a Lincoln Continental, also from around the early 1970s. I needed to consult the online car brochure sites in order to pin down the exact year of this one.
It's a 1973 with a Mark IV-style grille surround added on. The '72 had the same body panels, but the bumper guards were used for '73 before larger bumpers were added the following year.

While passing the Cambridge fire station just outside the Harvard Square "tunnel," I spotted something orange-ish in the parking lot:
I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't get a better shot, but I was sitting by the aisle, not the window, so I was lucky I got this. I thought it was an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible until I took a closer look at the bumper and marker light, and realized it's a Buick Skylark convertible, with some sweet vintage Keystone wheels that might go back to when this car was new.

I looked for the Buick most every day I passed the fire station on the way home, but I never saw it again. The Lincoln was around for a while, but was gone by mid-September. The Dart is still in the same place.

23 October 2015

Temporarily Un-Temped

I wrapped up my temporary work assignment today. I was there for four months, which was about a month longer than I originally expected. I'll be on a temporary break while I work on lining up another assignment. I have a few random thoughts on the non-work aspects of my experience...

—The office had a business-casual dress code. This wasn't a big deal, I just was not used to it, having spent more than a decade in jobs where I could wear whatever I felt like. I quickly figured out that a very large percentage of my nicer, office-appropriate clothing was for the cooler months, and I had to scramble to ensure I had enough warm-weather stuff. Also, lighter-weight pants tend to stretch out in the waist after I've had them on for a couple of hours, making adjustments necessary, so I had to wear my belts cinched tighter than usual.

—Conversely, I had plenty of shoes that I was able to rotate through during the summer, but I'm lacking in dress-casual shoes for fall. I have boots, and I did wear those some when it got cool enough, like today. But I'm going to have to add a pair or two of shoes.

—The commuting was far more burdensome than having to wear pants and long-sleeve shirts in summer. Working at home is starting to look more appealing...

—But if I work at home, I won't get to go out and get a tasty lunch every day; I'd end up eating peanut butter and Fluff all the time.

—I used to eat salad for lunch almost every day at my previous job, but I had access to a salad bar with excellent variety. There's only one in Harvard Square that I'm aware of, in the market on the corner of Brattle and Church, and it's kind of overpriced. So I fell back into my sandwich-eating ways (Pronto in the Charles Hotel courtyard, or Al's Cafe in Holyoke Smith Center), punctuated with falafel from Sabra Grill or the tortilla salad from Felipe's. I also went to Chipotle because it was easy and fast, but not more than once every other week.

—I never made it to the food trucks over by the Science Center, because it was kind of too far: by the time I walked over there and waited for my food, I'd barely have enough time to get back to my office, never mind eat. And I didn't want to be out walking that much during the height of summer anyway.

20 October 2015

Car Stuff: Rough, Needs Work

This rough beast appeared in a driveway not too far from my house. I hadn't been over that way in a while, but I came upon it because I was coming home via the reverse of the route I've been taking to work lately.
What we have here is the carcass of a 1967 Pontiac LeMans convertible. I saw the hardtop sibling of this car last year, and posted it back in the spring. (By "sibling" I don't mean they have the same owner, just that they are both the same make and model, but different body styles.)

Actually, this car isn't as bad as it may appear. I don't see any serious rust along the bottom of the panels on this side, except maybe one or two small holes near the back. There are a few spots where the paint appears to be gone down to bare metal, which naturally rusted, and that area next to the tail light looks like a candidate for some filler compound. This is likely a project car that I happened to catch outside. I'd seen it once in the driveway with a cover, but I suspect it lives in the garage in front of it. Maybe by next spring it will have a new top...

19 October 2015

An Atypical Appellation

Today at the office, the regular front-desk person was out, and there was a fill-in person that I had not seen or met before. She was about half my age, but when I spoke to her about something, she responded and ended her sentence with "hon." I was a little surprised; after all, it is 2015, and "hon" is the sort of thing you expect to hear spoken by a sixtyish diner waitress in a 1970s movie. But it was also charming in its own way, a note of familiarity used as a way to make people feel like their requests are being heard, to put them at ease.

16 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/16/15)

Need to clear your head? I've got just the thing: "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.



Good night...

One Way or Another

Now that the weather has changed, I've been taking a different route to work in the mornings. Instead of going to the bus stop right on the corner, it involves walking for several minutes through the neighborhood to get to a different bus route, then connecting in Medford Square to another bus that brings me to Davis Square, where I hop onto the Red Line for two stops.

It might not seem like a better option, but in daily practice it is much calmer and more civilized. I enjoy the walk in the morning air (the walking is the reason I didn't do this in the summer), and I don't have to fight my way onto an already-packed Orange Line train only to have to fight my way off again after only two stops. And while the first bus tends to get caught in some traffic, it's not nearly as bad as what I encountered almost every day taking the 86. Some mornings I ride to Medford Square with the Mrs., who stops there for coffee on days when she's going to one of her two office locations.

The second bus runs through Davis and on to Harvard, but it tends to get bogged down on the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Porter and Harvard. The T has acknowledged this by having buses on this route alternate during the morning rush between running all the way to Harvard and going only as far as Davis. The buses are clearly marked; they say "DAVIS SQ" instead of "HARVARD VIA DAVIS" and they are indicated on the route's schedule.

But of course, people don't pay attention. This morning I boarded the bus and sat down. A couple of people got on behind me, then a woman got on and asked the driver a question about getting to a specific destination. He told her the bus was going only as far as Davis. Another woman sitting near the front jumped up and said, in a minor panic, "Wait, what?" He explained again that the bus did not go to Harvard Square, but connected with the Red Line at Davis. Her face cycled through a couple of expressions before she decided this was acceptable, said "Okay, whatever," to no one in particular, and sat down again.

15 October 2015

Such a Waste

I just found, on the floor under my desk, a piece of bacon that fell out of my sandwich yesterday. That's a damn shame, right there, a waste of perfectly good bacon...

13 October 2015

Cheerful Mornings

So yeah, quiet around here lately. I was sort of busy doing stuff over the weekend, but not so busy that I didn't have time for a post, I just sort of forgot. I can offer this:
It came from a web store affiliated with the writer Warren Ellis. The Mrs. accidentally broke my Strand Books mug, and I decided to replace it with this. If you think you'd like one of your own, you can find it over here.

08 October 2015

Analog

This morning I came out of the subway and was walking toward my office. I am generally on the lookout for people moving more slowly so that I can move around them. Ahead of me I noticed a woman with her head down and her right arm bent up at the elbow, in the now-common posture of someone looking at a smartphone while walking.

I moved to my right, and as I came up behind her I saw that she was not looking at her phone, but in fact was deeply engaged with written material on an old-fashioned clipboard. I was pleasantly surprised and a little amused.

06 October 2015

Car Stuff: You, in the Back...

A few weeks ago, on the bus on my way to work one morning, I caught a glimpse of something parked in the back lot of an auto place in Somerville's Union Square. By the time it had registered we had already gone past it, so on my way home that evening I made sure to sit where I could see the lot. It was metallic orange and I was pretty sure it was from the 1970s, but it was a little too far away for me to get a clear sense of what car it might be.

The next morning I looked again, and I was pretty sure it was a Ford Granada. I haven't seen one of those, parked or on the road, in more than 20 years, so it would be an interesting find. Next time I was able, I took a photo as we were passing by. By zooming I could discern the car, but it wasn't a Granada.
It's a Buick Regal, quite possibly the one that I featured back in June. Maybe it needs work, or maybe its owner works here. It hasn't moved and is there every day, including today.

(And speaking of old or unusual cars, that Saab 9-5 wagon looks pretty good in red. What happened to Saab is a shame, and I'm still hopeful that the company might be able to start making cars again.)

04 October 2015

Welcome to October

I wanted to post this on Friday, but I just didn't get to it. However, there are still 27 days left in October after today, so I'm going for it.
I broke out the Chippewa/L.L. Bean boots Friday, along with a pair of heavier-weight khakis and (not shown) my Filson coat. It looks like there's going to be a bit of a warm-up this coming week, though not quite as much as had been predicted earlier: as of now, it's going to get to the upper 60s on Tuesday and touch 70 on Wednesday, but the mornings are still going to be brisk. This is fine with me, though my true preference is for it to be like Friday was, cool enough that some form of outerwear is required.

02 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/2/15)

It's late and I don't have the energy or mental capacity to write anything coherent, let alone eloquent, but I've had this one in my back pocket for a while: "Rock Box" by Run-DMC.



To me, this is the spirit of hip-hop, and I think it's gone today. There are some very talented performers, but there's nothing in the music that I can connect with or relate to. I'll hear a song and like the backing track until the rapping starts, and then I'm done with it.

There's a homegrown quality to this video that I find really endearing. All the music videos are so elaborate now, I can just imagine a record company's reaction if a group submitting this as their promotional clip. (I don't know what's up with the Prof. Irwin Corey crap at the beginning; just ignore it.)

What was it about the '80s? I'm so glad I'm old enough to have lived through it...

30 September 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (9/30/15)

I've been trying to make these happen on the last Friday of the month, but obviously that has passed by, so I guess the last day of the month will have to do. (And by the way, I completely forgot to post one in August.)

I went back to the German Rockpalast series for this one (earlier I posted Police and Pretenders shows). The Kinks don't get enough credit as far as influence goes. I think it's partly because they were not as popular in the 1960s as their cohorts (Beatles, Stones, Who). But as time has passed their legacy has only grown.



I happened to see them at the old Boston Garden in early 1982, which I think was the tour for the excellent album Give the People What They Want.

29 September 2015

Nine

It almost got by me... but it didn't. I started this thing nine years ago today. I had no idea how long it would last, but eventually I found my groove.

The past several months have been hectic, and challenging in unexpected ways: I've gone back to work and had to get used to commuting again, there was an adjustment to not having unlimited free time, and the dog has needed a lot of additional care and attention in her advanced age. I've thought about maybe hitting the pause button for a while, but I feel like sticking to it with less frequency is more like what I want to be doing, and should be doing. And I like having this bit of webspace to express myself.

So, cheers to everyone who visits. Now I'm off to try to get some sleep...

28 September 2015

Car Stuff: More Diesels

No, we're not getting into the Volkswagen thing; at least, not tonight. I'm referring to the Mercedes-Benz diesels I posted a while back. There was one that I had seen but wasn't able to photograph for that post, but fortunately that car remained in the same spot each time I passed, until one recent morning when I was riding past on the bus and I got a shot. (Sorry about the sun flare.)
As it turned out, it was joined that day by a friend. The silver car toward the back is the one I'd seen in front of this house several times. Maybe the yellow one was visiting, or maybe this person is a buyer and seller of these cars (there is a robust secondary market for them because of their durability). I'm glad I finally saw a yellow one, because back in the 1980s it seemed like all of them were that color.
And then last weekend we were at a friend's house and went for a walk, where I found this one parked on the street. It has California plates, so maybe it came all the way across the country.

24 September 2015

Deleting the Branding

I'm the kind of person that a lot of apparel and shoe companies don't want as a customer: I despise external branding. I won't wear shirts with things embroidered on them, and I remove the labels sewn above the back pockets of pants. If a logo can't be removed, I won't buy the item.

I have exceptions to this, and reasons for my exceptions. I have no problem with the "Off the Wall" affixed to the heels of Vans, both because it's iconic (Vans is turning 50 next year) and because it's always been part of the design. It has earned its place. Other shoe companies think they can also claim this territory, but they haven't earned it yet.

A couple of months ago I acquired a pair of white leather Cole Haan sneakers. I wasn't looking for them, but they appeared in front of me, so to speak, in an online clearance. They had the comfort insoles that CH is known for, light weight and a minimal lining (important during summer), simple, unadorned uppers—basically everything I'd want in a summer sneaker. The various discounts brought them down from $100 to $42, with free shipping. Canvas Vans are $45; leather Vans are usually around $70 or more. It was an easy decision.
They also had "COLE HAAN" set into the bottoms of the soles. But the bottoms of my shoes are generally not visible, so that didn't bother me much. There were also rubber logo badges at the back of the heels, just like Vans except "COLE HAAN" again, and they were black with white lettering so they were pretty noticeable. That was more of a challenge, but I don't give up that easily. I got an X-Acto knife and went to work on the badges for ten minutes or so.
One down, one to go. As you can see, the badges did not slice off in nice, even slabs, but I didn't care. I would 100% rather have them gone, with all these gouges remaining, than leave them on. (Apologies to Cole Haan, the sneakers are great but I don't want your company's name adorning my heels.)

22 September 2015

That's the Stuff

Fall has finally arrived, pretty much. The days are no longer scorching, and the nights are getting cool. We are leaving the windows open so our apartment cools down at night, enough so that we don't need to run the AC during the day. That chill in the early mornings feels great, and when I get up in the morning and go into the kitchen, I have to turn on a light. And for the past couple of nights, I've needed a jacket when I walked the dog.

I'm not naive enough to think it won't get warm again, but I know that when it does, it won't last too long. The long-range forecast suggests that warmer than average temperatures will continue into October, but as long as the nights are dropping into the 50s I can handle the daytime temps.

What I have not done yet is switch over my clothes. The darker colors and heavier fabrics will get brought back up from the basement eventually, but for now it's just too soon for that.

21 September 2015

Car Stuff: A Quiet Friday Morning

Several weeks ago I got to Harvard Square fairly early on a Friday. I had enough time to walk over to Darwin's on Mount Auburn Street for a breakfast sandwich, so I took a quiet street to cut over from Brattle Street.
Near the end I came upon this MGB (technically, an MG MGB) sitting in the stone driveway of a house. The whole scene was so attractive that I didn't crop the photo as much as I usually would. (The car is dark green, by the way; it's difficult to tell because the car is in shadow.)

I'd say the large gigantic rubber bumper guards put this at the early 1970s, because these cars got redesigned bumpers for 1975 to they complied with US regulations. Wikipedia informs me that these were fitted to 1974 models, and the heavier, full-width rubber bumpers began appearing midway through the '74 model year, so we may be looking at something a bit rarer than a typical MGB.

The MGB was produced from 1962 to 1980, with incremental changes along the way. They are fun cars, but they require some effort to keep tuned and running well. This is a fine example and I'm inclined to think it's someone's "summer car."

19 September 2015

Retro Video Unit (9/18/15)

I don't know why some music videos are not on YouTube, but since I've been doing this for a while, I know that sometimes things show up if I keep looking, and such is the case here today.

I've wanted to feature "In a Big Country" by Big Country for several years, and I've been looking for this clip without success, but according to YouTube this was uploaded only a couple of months ago.



Unfortunately, their early success in the 1980s did not last, but they made a big impression on kids like me back in 1983, and this video got a lot of airplay on MTV.

17 September 2015

Seasonally Appropriate

I was going to gripe about the weather, but what's the point? September is still summer around here, that's our new reality. I've accepted it. I have to dress for the conditions, not the calendar. I'm sticking with the lighter fabrics and colors until I can feel the change in the air.

Having to dress in office attire this summer, I realized that my wardrobe is much more skewed toward clothing for cooler weather. I have a lot of plaids in darker colors, and a lot of pants in heavier fabrics, and I took all of them out and put them in the basement. It'll be time for them to rotate back up soon enough.

And hey, next week's weather looks like it will be closer to what used to be normal for this time of year...

15 September 2015

Getting There is More Than Half the Drag

September has brought longer morning commutes, which I expected to some degree. But my earlier approach of taking an earlier bus is no longer effective, mainly because the buses are being delayed by heavier traffic.

It doesn't matter if I'm ready to leave the house at 7:45, because the bus isn't showing up for another 20 minutes. The gains I was experiencing by leaving earlier are gone, negated by sitting through multiple traffic light cycles at Wellington Circle. The culprit seems to be route 93, because 28 south is backing up all the way to the circle.

Sure, I read on the bus, or do crossword puzzles; if the mind isn't occupied, the ride seems twice as long. But it's all such a huge waste of time. And then I still have to get on the Orange Line, go two stops to Sullivan, and get the 86 bus to Harvard Square. It's still taking an hour, or longer, to go three and a half miles.

This morning I happened to be ready a little earlier than I expected, so I looked at the bus countdown page and saw that the even-earlier bus, the one that in normal traffic conditions comes by my corner around 7:30, was only a minute or two away, so I grabbed my things and hurried out to the corner. I made the bus, but it still took an hour to get to work.

But getting there earlier does mean I can leave earlier, and interestingly, the trip home doesn't seem to be fraught with the same sort of stress. I still have to be concerned about making connections, but generally it goes much more smoothly in the afternoons.

12 September 2015

Workplace Embarrassment Unit

The office I've been working in has had casual Fridays for the summer... but they ended with Labor Day, and no one conveyed this information to me. So I showed up dressed more or less the way I have every Friday since I started there. As soon as I walked into my work area this morning I knew something was up: the guy at the next desk was wearing a white dress shirt and black pants. He's not moonlighting as a waiter, so I thought it was unusual he'd be dressed that way on a Friday.

Eventually I noticed that other people were dressed the way they are during the rest of the work week. I briefly contemplated going over to the nearby Gap or EMS store to acquire some pants, but I decided it's not my fault that because I'm a temp, I'm not on the distribution list for any of the office-related stuff. It was a little awkward, but I got over it.

09 September 2015

In Praise of the Tallboy

Earlier this summer I deviated from my regular beer, Narragansett, to sample some others. At one point my refrigerator contained Founders All Day IPA, Harpoon's new Take 5, and some Magic Hat that had been brought to the house by guests. Whenever I drank one I'd think, I wish this was 16 ounces instead of 12.

The primary reason for this is that I drink a beer with my dinner, and the larger-size serving works much better as a meal accompaniment. Even with judicious sipping, too often I get to the end of a 12-ounce beer with several bites of food remaining. Draft beer is usually served as a pint, and I think that's probably related to food as well, at least a little.

I don't know who first thought of the 16-ounce can (I suspect that has been lost to beer history), but that person's effort is certainly welcomed by me.

08 September 2015

Car Stuff: Back Bay Vintage

This week, another contribution from my roving Back Bay correspondent A Proper Bostonian, who spotted this very old pickup truck a couple of months ago.
I admit to being sort of stumped by this one. I think it's a Ford from the early 1950s, the period before the first F-100, when it was just called the F-1. Admittedly, it's a little hard to be sure without seeing the front, but I think that's a F-1 badge just behind the fender.

05 September 2015

Grooming Garage: Bonus Buy

It seems a little silly to get excited about value-size packages of stuff I need, but some things (in my opinion) just cost too much. I've been using Schick Hydro 5 razor cartridges for a while now, and even though Schick has a far smaller percentage of the razor market than Gillette, they decided that they were going to price their products like Gillette does. So I've typically been paying $12 to $14 for a package of four cartridges, which strikes me as borderline outrageous, but unfortunately my face is so sensitive that I can't cheap out and buy store-brand blades, or any similar strategy—too risky.

Schick runs coupons in the Sunday papers pretty regularly, typically offering $2 or $3 off cartridges, but you rarely see them at an actually reduced sale price, but CVS sometimes offers $10 in "Extra Bucks" if you spend $25 on Schick products, so I have taken advantage of that in the past.

But recently I noticed that stores like Target are carrying a package of 12 Hydro 5 cartridges, priced at $31.49. That's a Costco-sized package. I haven't been to Costco in a while (I let our membership lapse to save some money) so I don't know if they are carrying Schick products now, but they didn't before. (Maybe one of the other warehouse clubs does?) Also, some of the packages have two extra "bonus" cartridges.

Careful shopping can combine a bonus package and a higher-value coupon; I had one for $4 off that was expiring this weekend, so yesterday after work I made my way to Target and got a bonus pack of 14 cartridges for $27.49 plus tax, which works out to about $2 a cartridge.

I want to track how long this package lasts. I estimate I won't need to buy cartridges again for a year, plus I have 3/4 of my previous package remaining. I typically shave only twice a week, and I can usually get about a month out of one cartridge.

04 September 2015

Retro Video Unit (9/4/15)

Hey look, it's on the right day! Heading into the long weekend, I didn't have as much going on today, so I was able to start thinking about this week's selection a bit ahead of time. I was helped by the season one finale of Mr. Robot, the USA series that's had a lot of people talking this summer.

This week's episode featured several excellent music choices, including 1984's "World Destruction" by Time Zone, which was a project that brought together electronica/hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa (whom you may recall I've featured before), singer John Lydon of Public Image Ltd., and musician/producer Bill Laswell.



(And yes, I know this song was also used in The Sopranos.)

The episode also featured "People Who Died" by the Jim Carroll Band. You may recall the 1995 movie The Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which was based on Carroll's memoir of teenage drug addiction. True trivial fact: I saw Carroll speak and read some of his poetry in the '80s at Boston University.



And for something a bit more recent, the closing scene (after the end credits, for a bit of a fakeout) used "Sound and Color" by Alabama Shakes.


03 September 2015

The Lull

I know it's been quiet around here this week. I'm always hopeful that commuting will provide me with observations I can share, but the couple of weeks leading into the Labor Day weekend tend to have lighter ridership on buses and subways because many people take vacation time. Fewer people means less chance of me seeing something interesting.

So the lack of material becomes the material itself, so to speak. It's easier to get a seat on a train or bus. Lines are shorter at lunchtime. Both of my coworkers have been on vacation these past two weeks, leaving me to handle incoming phone calls as best I can. The office is very quiet, and I love that.

But it won't last. After the weekend, life goes back to normal. The commute will get hectic again, and I'll arrive at work already mentally exhausted from jostling to get on and off buses and trains, and trying to make timely connections while dodging slower commuters with their heads bent, staring at their phones. I'll start to think about the merits of working from home.

And this is probably a good place for a mini-rant about commuting etiquette: seriously, what is it with you people? You cannot all board the bus at the exact same time, yet you still keep trying, and I stand there watching all of you in a combination of amusement and disgust. And then I try to move into place and wait my turn, and one of you always seems to find it necessary to force yourself between me and the bus so you can get on first. And just this morning I watched a woman try to exit a train at Wellington while another woman stood just outside the door and refused to move two inches to her left to make it easier for the first woman to get out, as though somehow relinquishing those inches would allow someone else to board the train before her—and if that did happen, so what? I've never even seen such behavior in New York, and I've concluded it's simply beyond my understanding.

31 August 2015

Car Stuff: Chasing One Down

A couple of months ago, I was making a quick run to the liquor store on a Friday evening. I was at the bus stop when a very vintage, black Cadillac convertible went past, too quickly for me to get a photo. The bus arrived a few moments later, and I wondered if we might catch up to the car, but I could not see it ahead of us.
When the bus got to Wellington Circle, where I needed to get out, I looked across the traffic waiting for the light, which can get pretty thick on Friday evenings, and I saw the Cadillac in the left lane. I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures while I was walking toward the crosswalk (which is why this one's blurry).
When I got to where I needed to cross, the car was still there, so I kept pushing the shutter.
I crossed behind the car and now I was on the median next to the driver. I asked him if I could take a couple of shots and he obliged, telling me that the car was a '53. The light changed and he went on his way, and I had an interesting anecdote to share along with these pics. (The guy has good taste in hats, too.)

27 August 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault: April Fool

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

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

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

25 August 2015

Getting Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 August 2015

Car Stuff: Oh, a Fiero

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

23 August 2015

Retro Video Unit (8/21/15)

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

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

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



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

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

19 August 2015

Car Stuff: Sometimes They Get Away

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

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

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