04 March 2015


The view out the window of an MBTA bus:
The buses have acquired a bit of road dirt during the winter, as you can see.

03 March 2015


I had to go to the dentist in Brookline yesterday, and the T seems to be back to something resembling normal service. The subway and trolley lines don't have all the cars back in service yet that they should, but my trips to and from my destination did not take any longer than they otherwise would have.

Of course, I wasn't riding the commuter rail. If I had to ride a commuter train daily I think I'd be pretty disgruntled by now, especially after it was announced that it will probably take until the end of this month to restore service on the commuter lines to normal.

That seems like a long time, but I was thinking that date may have been chosen for a bit of the underpromise-and-overdeliver effect. Say the T is able to get service back to normal by St. Patrick's Day. They can then issue a press release claiming that a return to normal service was achieved two weeks ahead of plan. It's bullshit, but it's what PR is all about. It's also disingenuous and insulting to all the commuters who had to endure the commuter rail's miserable performance this winter.

The system's flaws were exposed in particularly harsh and unpleasant fashion, and even after service returns to what it's supposed to be, commuters aren't going to forget what they went through. I am very interested to see what measures Keolis (who operates the commuter trains for the MBTA) is planning and how they intend to remedy the commuter rail's problems.

02 March 2015

Car Stuff: A Winter Apparition

The weekend happened, didn't it? I was planning a TWiA but things got sort of busy on Saturday, and yesterday we were visiting my family. I'll just hold onto my selections for the coming weekend.

Meanwhile, the winter hasn't exactly presented me with abundant opportunities to take photos of old cars. I did have another near miss that I am very disappointed about: one day a few weeks back, I was out clearing snow from the end of the driveway when a Buick convertible from the early 1970s drove by. It looked very well-kept and I was surprised someone would have such a car out during the winter. I don't generally have my phone on me when I go out to shovel, and even if I'd had it, I wouldn't have been able to get it out in time to get a picture. (You can get an idea of how the car looks by browsing Google Images.)

I only got a quick look at it as it passed, but I know it was a full-size model, black with a tan top, and I saw enough of the rear bumper and lights (just different enough from previous years) to believe it was a 1973. That would mean it was a Centurion, a short-lived model (in fact, '73 was its last year) between the LeSabre and the Electra lines. There was also a LeSabre convertible in 1971 and '72 that was dropped for '73, but after the whole Centurion line was dropped, the remaining convertible became a LeSabre again for '74. Convertibles were declining in popularity in general and other car makers had already started dropping them as early as 1971, but General Motors held out through 1975 ('76 for the Cadillac Eldorado).

I'm a big fan of the full-size GM cars of 1971-76, which is not necessarily a popular sentiment. I'll qualify that by saying I tend to prefer models from the first half of the generation because they tend to be cleaner and although they are very large cars, they wear their size well. The federal bumper standards went into effect front and rear for 1974 models, and concurrent with that GM started fussing with the styling, changing rooflines, adding "formal" windows in the sides of the roof panels, making larger and more elaborate grilles, and generally messing up what had looked pretty nice before.

I am hoping that when spring finally arrives I see this car out again around Medford and can get photos of it.

28 February 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (2/27/15)

I've only done two of these, but I'm excited by what I've found so this one's going to be a bit different.

Underworld is a band that creates and performs its music using electronics (and the occasional electric guitar). I've been a big fan of their work for over two decades (asterisk: they existed in a previous incarnation as a band with the same name that used conventional instruments; that album is an obscure curiosity, but it also has its moments).

Obviously they aren't the only band that has taken this approach, but Underworld's music connects for me in ways that few other bands do. Their live shows (I've seen them twice; they don't tour often) are very immersive, visual experiences, and that comes through in this film. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, Underworld is playing at the Hollywood Bowl in June, which I imagine will be a great experience.

(Programming note: going forward, I've decided I'm going to do these concert posts on the last Friday of each month.)

26 February 2015


While digging around for my stash of old concert tickets, I found a few other things I've been holding onto for some time for no particular reason. Or maybe the reason I kept things is just because they were interesting to me at one time.
When the new Southwest Corridor portion of the Orange Line opened in 1987, the MBTA issued commemorative tokens. I found this one on the ground, either inside a station or near it, and I've had it all this time. The T hasn't used tokens of for, I don't know, seven or eight years? Whenever the system started using CharlieCards.
Regular tokens were a brassy color; these were silver-colored to make them distinctive. I know my pictures came out crappy, so one side says "opening May 1987" and the other says "Southwest Corridor Orange Line."

(I just found this article that says, among other things, that tokens could still be redeemed for CharlieCard value for years after they were no longer usable to pay fares directly; I had no idea. It also mentions that 10,000 tokens like mine were made.)

25 February 2015

We're Number Two

Boston has recorded 100 inches of snowfall this winter, almost all of it in the past month. I believe the current record is 107.6 inches in the winter of 1995-96. The difference that year was that the snow started falling pretty early in the season, and just kept falling, in more frequent but smaller storms. It was our first winter sharing our first apartment together, and our house was at the end of a dead-end street that almost never got plowed because the city classified it as a "private way" and because very few people lived on it.

The Mrs. and I kept shoveling out the area in front of the house and the piles kept getting higher as we tried to figure out where to put the snow. Eventually we started throwing it over the fence next to us, into the back yard of a house that fronted on an adjacent street. Apparently the people who lived there weren't so happy about it, but our landlord knew them and had a talk. It's not like they were using their yard in the middle of a ridiculously harsh winter, and by that point we really had nowhere else to put the snow, so things got smoothed over. The people whose driveway is behind our yard where we live now throw their snow over the fence onto our side—who cares?

Anyway, it now feels like we have turned the corner on this difficult and memorable winter. I've been able to remove the two-inch coating of ice from the sidewalk in front and a good portion of the walkways around the rest of the house. The sun has been doing some of the work for me. Temperatures have been managing to rise above 32 degrees here and there.

At the same time, there's a lingering feeling of unfinished business. As A Proper Bostonian put it to me, it feels like we need one more storm to put us over the top for the snowfall total, to secure that number one position, because after enduring all of this it will be something of a letdown if we don't. And as much as I want this winter to be over, I think I agree with her. But I haven't had to commute in any of this mess, and I haven't even ventured outside of Medford in the past couple of weeks unless I was in a car.

Update 2/26: I had written that the official snowfall measurement for 1995-96 was 107.9 inches but I subsequently found that it is 107.6, so I have corrected the number above. Also, according to Harvey Leonard during tonight's weather on WCVB, Boston has now recorded 102 inches of snow this winter, which means we are less than six inches away from breaking that record...

24 February 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault

Last week my friend Just Bud Fox (supplier of some of the photos for Random Sightings) posted a photo of a ticket from a Replacements concert we went to back in 1987. This pleased me greatly, and then it gave me the idea to do the same. I have a stash of tickets from most of the concerts I attended during the 1980s and '90s, and I think it would be amusing (if only for me and a few other people) to post some of them.
I'll inaugurate this (semi-recurring?) feature with the oldest ticket currently in my possession, from a Police concert in August of 1983. This was after Synchronicity had come out and hit big, and The Police played a stadium tour; this show was at Sullivan Stadium (later called Foxboro Stadium), which some of you may remember as the home of the Patriots before Gillette Stadium was built.

Being a big outdoor show, it was a triple bill, with A Flock of Seagulls and The Fixx appearing (in that order) before The Police took the stage. (Other parts of the tour got different opening acts, as I recall.) Also, I won the tickets from the radio station WBRU, which at the time was Providence's only real option for hearing anything approaching alternative music. The prize also included a bus ride from the radio station to the concert and back, which was probably worth more than the ticket price, as any of you who have been to a concert (or a Patriots game) at Gillette will know.

23 February 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #25

You've seen my neighbor's 1968 Camaro before, but this is a different one that I spotted on a day trip to Rhode Island back in July.
This one was an SS with a non-stock hood, though the stripes were a factory option. Not many of these cars were left in their original condition, but I'd rather see a car on the road and being enjoyed than fret over its originality.
We were on our way to get ice cream when I spotted this car in a gas station across the street, and waited until it was leaving to take these shots.
The resolution isn't great because I was kind of far away, and then I cropped the pics, but they look better than I thought they would.

21 February 2015

Retro Video Unit (2/20/15)

Sometimes I choose songs to post here just because they are obscure, like today. I'd never seen a video for this song, but remembering it was enough. Lone Justice had a brief moment in the mid-1980s; I think they may have been on the same label as Los Lobos and the Blasters, and they have some of that same sort of rockabilly energy, but clearly they had other influences.

"Ways to Be Wicked" is certainly better known of their songs, but I just prefer this one: "I Found Love."

19 February 2015

Snow Update

Last weekend's snow put us in third place for the most snow in one winter, and only six-tenths of an inch behind second place. We've had a few flurries fall Tuesday, Wednesday, and today, so I think it's likely that this winter has moved into second place for snowfall, and it's not over yet. (I just confirmed that this has in fact occurred. For the record, we're less than a foot away from moving into first place.)
So I thought I'd once again look at the snow accumulation around our house. Here's the by-now familiar view of our back yard, and the five-foot high wooden fence at the back has now completely disappeared. I'm a little surprised that the neighbor behind us has not cleared that garage roof yet.
Here's the path across the back of the house. You can see that I gave up on the idea of keeping the entire area in front of the garage door clear. As long as it's accessible it doesn't need to be cleared completely.
Here's the same path looking in the opposite direction. The dog and I have to navigate this several times a day.
Here are the mounds in front of the house, which keep growing along with the plowed-up drifts to the left, by the street. Note the wall of snow directly ahead, past the yellow house; there is supposed to be an opening there to allow pedestrians to pass along without going into the street, but the business owner decided not to bother this year.
And just for laughs, this is a bus stop I was at yesterday. There used to be a Shaw's supermarket here but it closed about a year ago and now this stop gets very little use, but my bank happens to be across the parking lot. When I took this picture I was standing on several feet of snow where a path had been made from the parking lot to the street. Most stops have been cleared better than this one, but venturing out without waterproof, insulated footwear is still a bad idea.

18 February 2015

Promo Poses

In case you haven't heard, the final half-season of Mad Men begins on April 5tth. As they do each year, AMC released a new batch of promotional photos. They're all pretty great (you can see them all here), but this one's my favorite:
I've always felt that the stories of the women on the show were at least as important as Don's story, if not more so, considering the time period. But also, let's be honest, they're all stunningly beautiful.
This is my runner-up, mainly because of the relationship between Don and Peggy and how it evolved through the course of the show. It's also nice to see them smiling together, even if it's a staged photo.

17 February 2015

Snow Assists

T he latest storm left about 16 inches of snow in my area over the weekend (the official measurement in Boston was higher). I tend to wait until the storms are winding down before I head outside to start shoveling. As I was in the kitchen drinking coffee and looking out the window, watching the snow fly sideways in huge wind gusts, I heard the motor of a snowblower.

Our next-door neighbor has been helping us out by clearing all or part of the snow deposited at the end of the driveway by passing plows, so I assumed he was at it again, but then the sound grew louder. He was coming up the driveway with the blower, which I thought was strange until I remembered the dryer vent in his house's basement faces our driveway; I dug it out after the first big storm, but it had gotten covered again by a drift caused by the latest storm's high winds.

He pushed the blower straight into the drift until he reached the vent, then backed up and continued up our driveway toward our garage, then turned the corner at the back of the house and came across toward our back steps. He didn't quite get all the way there because there was another very large drift, but he did enough to save me a bunch of effort when I did get outside to shovel.

A couple of hours later I had cleared everything except the big pile at the end of the driveway; the neighbor had cut a path straight through but the rest of it remained. I started working on it, figuring I had at least another hour's work ahead of me. It was still very windy and was getting even colder, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to finish.

Since I was stepping out into the street frequently I was keeping a close eye on oncoming traffic. I had been working for 15 or 20 minutes when from a couple of blocks away I spotted what looked like a piece of heavy equipment approaching. As it got closer I saw that it was a Bobcat, and I thought to myself, buddy, you sure could make my life a lot easier right now. As I stood watching the vehicle slowed down, then angled in toward my driveway. The driver lowered the bucket and picked up a big scoop of snow, then drove forward a little and dumped it on the big bank formed by weeks of plows passing by.

He then backed up, turned toward the driveway, and came forward, lowering the bucket and then backing up again, using it to pull the snow into the street, then scooped up another pile of snow and dumped that too. He repeated this once more as I stood grinning and waving, then went on his way, leaving just some loose snow that I was able to clear away in about ten minutes. I have no idea whohe was, but I am extremely grateful for the assist.

16 February 2015

Car Stuff: Trying to Blend In

I was going to take today off from blogging, but decided to post one of my random single shots. I posted an Oldsmobile Eighty Eight Royale of this approximate vintage before, but it was a two-door.
This street passes the repair shop where I've found a few other cars, and you can just see the edge of it at the right of the photo. I don't know if this car was there to be repaired or if it just happened to be parked there on a day about nine months ago when I passed by on my way to get groceries. It sort of looks like it's trying to sit inconspicuously between the older Acura and the Nissan.

15 February 2015

This Week in Awesome (2/14/15)

Another big snowstorm, another three hours of shoveling. But at least the sun is out and it has stopped snowing, so I probably won't have to re-shovel tomorrow. But the wind is nasty, and it's going to be extremely cold for the next couple of nights.

The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy ranked the nine sports championships that Boston's teams have achieved in the 21st century.

John Oliver and Last Week Tonight aired a "tribute" to the demise of Radio Shack.

This week's oddly complementary mashup: the comic strip Cathy and the words of Louis CK.

And finally this week, one of those true stories that it so much stranger and more interesting than anything you could possibly make up. (The Guardian)

13 February 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (2/13/15)

This week's concert: The Pretenders playing at the Rockpalast festival in Germany in 1981.

These guys have always been one of my favorite bands, and I always tend to think of them this way, this lineup, these songs. I got to see them at the Orpheum in Boston in early '82 (postponed from the previous October due to the drummer injuring his hand) and it was an awesome show.

12 February 2015

A Helping Paw

Let's talk about something other than snow for a minute. (Or at least not directly about snow.) We've got a couple of days before the next storm, right?

Our poor elderly dog has been struggling this winter. She's not quite as sure on her legs as she used to be even when the ground is dry, so the snow and ice have been causing her to slip and making her nervous. It's also been very cold, which makes it uncomfortable for her to walk more than a short distance (and to squat when necessary).

A few years back we got some bootie things for her, but they never stayed on properly. They had velcro straps that went around her ankles, but her legs were still too skinny and they always fell off. I was looking for another option and found something sort of like a sock with a rubber bottom. Supposedly they were suitable for outdoor use but I had doubts.

Then I found another product called Pawz. They are natural rubber dog boots that are reusable and disposable. They are available in several different sizes, so you first have to figure out what size will fit your dog's paws. They stretch, so they fit over the paw but hold snugly around the ankles. So far they have stayed on when put on with no trouble.

They are admittedly awkward to put on (we're trying to do it while the dog is lying down), and it's one more thing to deal with when getting ready to go out, but they are making a difference. They give the dog some traction as well as a layer of insulation from snow, ice, and cold ground. She seemed to understand why we were making her wear these things and wanted to stay out longer, which was a good sign.

Pawz come a dozen to a package, so if one does manage to slip off, or one of the dog's nails pokes through, it's no big deal. They are available at pet stores large and small (check the website for the store locator). Oh, and they're made in the USA. If you have to walk a dog this winter, you may find Pawz helpful.

11 February 2015

Snow Pics

I had intended to include pictures in yesterday's post, but didn't get around to taking any until today. Those of you who are around regularly can compare these to the ones I've posted over the past couple of weeks.
Here's the backyard shot I have taken and posted twice before. The snow cover is between four and five feet deep, from windblown drifting and (closer to the foreground) where I threw it after shoveling. (Fence? What fence?)
Here is the path that is the result of that shoveling. The back porch is about five feet off the ground. (Please disregard the grill cover, it belongs to the folks who live upstairs.)
This is the accumulation from digging out the front of the house over and over. The tops of those piles are now higher than the level of the front porch, and about a foot below the bottom of the front window, which is seven feet off the ground.

10 February 2015

Snow Madness

After a deceptively mild start, this has turned out to be a hellish winter. The snow keeps falling, and falling, and falling. My arms are sore from shoveling, roads have been slippery, there's nowhere to put the mountains of snow. Our entire back yard has a snow pack that's now five feet high.

Things got so bad that the MBTA had to shut down all rail service Monday evening, and trains did not run all day today either. When trains are running, there aren't enough of them because snow is messing with the motors. The transit authority has been struggling to keep the above-ground rail lines clear. I've been lucky that I have not had to get anywhere by T since last week.

I know that people who live in places like Chicago and Minneapolis are laughing at us. We all know winters are worse in the Midwest. (Why do you think we don't live there?) It's not that we can't handle winter, but this much winter in such a short span of time has our region overwhelmed. (I blame Just Bud Fox, who kept saying he wanted it to snow, and doesn't even live in New England.)

The official snowfall measurement in Boston is now over 77 inches for the winter, and almost all of that has fallen within the past three weeks. This winter has already cracked the top 10 recorded snowfall amounts, and there's more on the way: a storm starting Thursday evening, and another Saturday night into Sunday.

Normally I'm all right with winter and I don't look forward to spring that much, but this winter has already overstayed its welcome. The question now is, how far into April will we have to get before all this snow finally melts? Until then, I wish to hibernate.

09 February 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #16

This was supposed to appear last week, but I had snow fatigue and just couldn't get myself in the mood to do it. I spent some of the extra time thinking about what car I wanted to feature next. I went back over the cars I've already written about and, inspired in part by my entry on small wagons, decided on a Plymouth Valiant.

The Valiant was the practical, economical, boring compact bought by frugal people who were not interested in frills. It was the antithesis of where the auto industry was going in the early 1970s, but that's part of its appeal. The early Valiants (1960-62) were pretty weird looking, definitely an acquired taste. The second generation (1963-66) was much better looking, plain and simple but still attractive. The third generation (1967-76) was the best looking one, which is part of the reason it lasted so long. (Economics and the changing car market played a large part as well.)
1970 Plymouth Duster (Old Car Brochures)
Back in FG #8 I talked about how the Barracuda was created from the Valiant. By 1970 it got its own body designation, growing in size along with its competition. That left an opening in Plymouth's lineup for a smaller, less expensive sporty car, which led to the introduction of the Duster, a coupe again based on the Valiant that proved to be very popular. I like Dusters, and I knew people who had them in high school, but I don't feel strongly enough about them to want to include one in the Fantasy Garage.

There's also the question of why I wouldn't want a Dodge Dart instead of a Valiant. Darts were built on a longer wheelbase and were generally better equipped and had nicer trim. Honestly, it's kind of a coin flip; I'd be perfectly happy with a Dart, but I guess I lean toward Valiants just because they are slightly more humble.
So then, which one? My first instinct was to go with a four-door sedan, inspired in part by the car from the old movie Duel (which, if you haven't seen it, is worth the time; it's a 1971 TV movie directed by Steven Spielberg). But I decided on a Scamp, which was a two-door hardtop added to the Valiant line for 1971 due mainly to the success of its cousin the Dart Swinger. These were just cute names for a nicer trim level intended to attract customers who might otherwise choose a larger car. They had more standard features and nicer interiors, and that cool concave rear window. I think bucket seats were also available, which would be a nice choice.

(Story on a '72 Scamp with lots of photos at Curbside Classic.)

08 February 2015

Retro Video Unit (2/6/15)

Eh, what can I say? It was a rough week...

So this is another one I've had on the list for a long time: "Alive and Kicking" by Simple Minds. They had quite a run of singles for a while there in the '80s, and I've always thought this was one of their best. The video is most notable for the scenery, with the band perched on a cliff somewhere.

I saw them live once, they opened for U2 on the Unforgettable Fire tour at the Worcester Centrum, and their set was nearly as good as U2's.

But whenever I think of Simple Minds, I end up wondering whatever happened to them. So many '80s bands have reunited or come out of hiatus or retirement or whatever, but they just kind of had their moment and that was it.

05 February 2015

Quick Fix

I have a jacket that I wear to walk the dog when it's cold, and when I'm shoveling snow. It's wool with some insulation, but it's not particularly bulky. I've had it for seven years or so, and I've worn it a lot, so I wasn't too surprised when I put it on the other day to take the dog out and the zipper tab broke off.

The dog couldn't wait, so when I got back I needed to come up with something I could use to unzip the jacket. I dug around in our junk drawer and came up with a paper clip. I had it on there for a day or so, but the metal was too thin so I switched to a larger paper clip. It works, and the top of the zipper is covered by a flap on the jacket so no one can see it, but I'm still trying to come up with a better, more permanent solution.

04 February 2015

Winter Notes

(I started this post last night but I was so tired from the past two days that I had to set it aside and go to sleep.)

It snowed again Monday. A lot. The TV news said we got 16" on top of last week's nearly two feet. Add in the couple of inches we got over the weekend and Boston got 40.5" of snow in one week, a new record that broke the old one by nine inches or so.

That's much more snow than people are used to dealing with in such a short span of time, and because everything is close together in our urban environment, figuring out what to do with the cleared snow is a challenge. The drifts get pretty high, as you can see.
Sidewalk in front of our house
Late in the morning on Monday the snow slowed down for a while, so I decided I wanted to get going on the shoveling. I knew I'd have to go out again the next day and re-shovel but it's better than having to deal with all of it at once. These storms have also been more challenging because it's been colder than normal and the winds have been strong.

I was able to follow the areas I had dug out last week, though this time the windblown drifting went against me and there was a lot more on the driveway side of the house. I was getting near the end of the driveway and dreading the task of clearing it when our next-door neighbor appeared from around the corner with his snow blower and proceeded to clear the whole thing for me. What would have taken me probably 90 minutes he was able to do in less than 10, which was a huge relief. I really need to see about getting my blower working again...
Driveway results
Yesterday morning we woke up to temperatures of around 4, and we quickly realized that our heat was not working. It had been the night before; we called the HVAC people and it turned out to be a thermal coupling, which is a relatively quick fix. Apparently they can just fail randomly, which is not exactly reassuring.

Yesterday I had to go out to the post office because I had sold two items on eBay. Getting to Medford Square wasn't a big deal, though the walk to the bus stop was tricky because of the variation in shoveling effort by the residents of our neighborhood. Coming back I was the victim of a bus delay that lasted almost an hour; eventually a bus appeared in a spot that isn't an actual bus stop, and a T employee who had also been waiting for the same bus realized it was the one all of us were waiting for and alerted everyone to cross the street and get on it. I haven't had to go into the city, and with the problems the T has been having I'm relieved.
Remember how this looked last week?
I entertained the idea of going to the Patriots parade for about five seconds. It is somewhat warmer today, about normal for this time of year, but with the huge piles of snow on the sidewalks I don't know where anyone is going to stand, and it also means the sidewalks are going to be more congested and it will be harder to move around, and trying to take the T is such a disaster at this point, so I'm just watching it on TV.

The forecast is calling for a small amount of snow tomorrow—lucky us. Beyond that it appears another storm is heading for us Sunday night into Monday. This winter had me fooled, with no snow of any significance until two-thirds of the way through January. Now it seems the weather is trying to make up for that lack of earlier snow.

02 February 2015

Patriots Pride

After the tumult and distraction of the past two weeks, last night's victory was a welcome palate cleanser of sorts. The Patriots took all that negative energy and used it to their advantage, and having an unknown (well, not anymore) player snag that interception just put the exclamation point at the end of a great game. It's the kind of moment that makes us care about football in the first place.
I was wearing this shirt during the game. It's probably my favorite piece of fan apparel of the ones I have. Funnily enough I don't remember where I got it or how long ago, but I think it came from the Patriots pro shop (a quick search of my archived email confirms that it did, and that I got it in '07). It has a local specificity that I can't imagine coming from the NFL fan shop.

Like a lot of people, I have never cared for the "flying Elvis" and stick to the throwback Pat Patriot design. (I also don't like the navy jerseys.) I do have a T-shirt from the first Super Bowl win that has the modern logo incorporated into it, but it's secondary to the Super Bowl XXXVI graphic. I also have a red hoodie that I got at the one game I've been to at Gillette (opening day '06 vs. Buffalo) but that has only "Patriots" in white script. I have a royal blue T-shirt with an embroidered Pat logo rather than a screen-printed one. Even my caps are throwback, one's red cotton and the other's a royal wool blend.

Fan pride takes many forms. Wearing the Pat Patriot logo doesn't mean you've been a fan for longer than someone else, but I do feel that it signifies you've put a bit more thought into it.

31 January 2015

This Week in Awesome (1/31/15)

SAR: Just getting it in under the wire since 2006 or so...

This is some high-level music-nerd stuff, but there are some interesting stories behind the entries. (The A.V. Club)

This is also music-related but more accessible, and will likely evoke some fond memories for MTV viewers in the late '80s and early '90s.

Here's one for the design buffs. (Wired)

And finally this week, a worthy long read about the reverberations of a serial killer's actions, decades after he committed his crimes. (BuzzFeed via Flipboard)

30 January 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition

I know I just did one of these last week, but I decided to try something a little different. Maybe I'll alternate it with the regular individual videos.

Digging around in the remainder bins of YouTube, I come across lots of stuff, including entire concerts from decades ago. Sometimes the shows are posted by the bands themselves, others are just from fans.

A couple of weeks ago The A.V. Club posted a Talking Heads concert filmed in Passaic, NJ in November 1980. It was a good show but it was done in black and white and some of the camera work was a little iffy in spots. Commenters suggested this show from the same year that was filmed in Rome, I'd seen references to it elsewhere, and it was conveniently listed in the sidebar of the other concert, so that's what we'll kick things off with.

[Historical note, of sorts: three days after that Passaic show, Talking Heads played at the Providence Performing Arts Center (which I think had a different name back then). I could have gone but I didn't know anyone else who was into them at the time, and I didn't know their music all that well yet either. That whole tour, coming right after the arrival of their groundbreaking fourth album Remain in Light, has become rather legendary, especially after the release a few years later of their concert movie Stop Making Sense—sort of an early '80s hipster equivalent of "I was into them before they got big," but with a legitimacy earned by having witnessed something truly special. One of my biggest musical regrets is that I didn't go to that Providence show.]

29 January 2015

A Leg Too Far

This "joggers" thing has gone too far: today I saw a guy on the bus wearing joggers (which, to refresh everyone's memory, are merely sweatpants) with little anchors all over them, like some perverted version of preppy critter pants. I know we had a blizzard two days ago, but if that's really the best you could manage in terms of putting yourself together to go outside, you should probably just stay indoors where no one else has to be subjected to them.

28 January 2015

After-Snow Pix

Okay, I'm going to blather just a bit more about the blizzard, because in terms of duration and snow accumulation this one was almost exactly like the one we had two years ago in February. But where it took me four days to finish fully digging out from that one, I got everything finished yesterday, including clearing the end of the driveway of the heavy stuff left by the plows (with some help from the Mrs.), and then I went back out this morning for an hour to clear the couple of inches more that fell overnight and re-clear the end of the driveway (much less daunting the second time).

What was different? I'm not sure, but the snow was very light, so even though it took three or four scoops of the shovel to clear each spot in front of me as I moved along, it was pretty easy to throw. The wind also causes some drifting that tends to leave large areas of our driveway with just a couple of inches, or in some spots nothing at all. There was also some of this on the other side of the house that allowed me to clear a path on that side too. I think during the storm two years ago the wind was blowing from a different direction and the drifting worked against me.
Here's what our backyard looked like as of this afternoon, looking down from the back porch. That chain-link fence on the left is three feet high; the wood one on the right is five. At the bottom you can see a drift line created by wind, with snow thrown on top of it from my shoveling. And I see tracks where an animal made its way along the side of the garage.
Down at ground level and looking to the right of the above shot, you can see what I was dealing with. Just beyond the black thing (covered grill) was the first wind-created shallow area that saved me some time and trouble yesterday.
Rounding the corner of the back porch and looking down the driveway toward the street shows that the highest drifting happened away from our house. What you can't see is at the highest point of that drift I dug right into it so I could clear the dryer vent on our neighbor's basement window. I realized later that I didn't take any pictures out front, where the snow piles created by shoveling are much higher. Maybe tomorrow...

27 January 2015

Car Stuff: Look Ma, the '50s!

I think it was simply luck that this 1956 Ford was parked outside this garage when I passed it back in June. A day or so later it was still there and I got this second, better shot, but I haven't seen it since.
The color scheme is pure '50s. In my brief first look I thought it was black and red, but I think at the time black and pink was more common, and red was more often seen with white. But a look at a brochure from that year shows that pink was not available, and it seemed likely this car had been repainted anyway, since it's in such nice condition overall.

The fender skirts and the abundance of trim identify this as a Fairlane, the top of the line in '56. Two-door sedans were called "club sedans" in Ford-speak, while four-doors were "town sedans."

26 January 2015

Blizzard Prep

(Since I won't be going anywhere for a couple of days, I'll have plenty of time and Car Stuff will appear tomorrow.)

So the minor snowstorm we got on Saturday was kind of a distraction. We were all focused on it because the conditions made it unpredictable (snow changed to rain as temperatures increased, then back to snow after dark), and we ended up canceling plans to go to Rhode Island but I think travel would have been fine. Meanwhile, a monster storm was in the process of forming, and is now steaming our way.

The first flakes started falling around 1 pm, and three hours later nothing has accumulated. If we didn't know what was coming we'd probably be inclined to dismiss the reports. We've had a relatively snow-free winter so far; before Saturday's snow we'd had just a few dustings and I was able to clear the sidewalk and driveway with only a push broom. Also, our storms don't typically come this close together.

This one is making people nervous because there's the potential for two feet of snow, or maybe more. Those of us over a certain age have vivid memories of the Blizzard of '78, the one against which all subsequent storms are inevitably measured. We remember being stuck inside for days, waiting for plows to finally clear the streets. That storm caught people by surprise, and some part of us thinks it might happen again, so we have a tendency to get a little nutty before big storms.

Stuff starts to shut down. Stores already have signs that they won't be open Tuesday, which is just common sense. The T won't be running, and citizens are urged to stay home and off the roads, which again is common sense. You can't get stranded if you don't go out in the first place.(Update: the governor has issued a travel ban effective at midnight tonight.)

We'd been food shopping fairly recently so we didn't need much, but a quick trip to the nearby Super Stop & Shop was in order yesterday. We are not foolish enough to venture within a quarter-mile of a Market Basket when a storm is approaching, but the Stop & Shop was still as busy as I had ever seen it in nine years. I managed to find an express line with a relatively short wait. Today it's probably even busier.

I also happened to be in need of beer, which is almost as important during a blizzard as food. This afternoon I made a quick run down to the nearby Big Liquor Store, because the combination of proximity and reasonable prices made the most sense under the circumstances. They were also busy, but not like the supermarket. Beer math once again came into play, with the 18-pack costing only $1 more than the 12-pack (technically $1.30 more with the deposits). I wondered who buys the 12-packs, and the answer is probably "you should have, dummy" because I still had to carry my 18-pack and realized, too late, that it weighs 50% more than a 12-pack.

25 January 2015

Retro Video Unit (1/23/15)

I knew I'd forgotten something... the worst part is I'd already picked a video for this installment, which I don't always accomplish ahead of time. Yesterday was consumed by snow shoveling and binge-watching Transparent (which was steaming free for one day only). Well, let's move on...

I have complicated feelings about rap and hip-hop that I don't really want to get into now, but I can say unequivocally that I like the early stuff better, which brings us to this track I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago. "Going Back to Cali" by LL Cool J was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Less Than Zero and later appeared on LLCJ's third album, Walking with a Panther (1989).

For a rap song it's pretty unusual: the pacing of the rhyming is laid back, almost anti-rap, the production by Rick Rubin is characteristically stripped-down and remarkably detailed at the same time. The video suits the song well, even if it falls into the '80s music video tropes of dancing women, driving, and the use of black and white.

22 January 2015


It's been an awkward and unpleasant week here in Patriots Nation, to put it mildly. Instead of enjoying the afterglow of another AFC championship win, another trip to the Super Bowl, another chance to add to the team's impressive roster of victories and legacy of success, all of us have to suffer the embarrassment of another scandal, another accusation of improper actions. I wasn't planning on or even thinking about writing anything, but as a fan I decided my thoughts are worth as much as anyone else's.

I suppose I should be starting from a presumption of innocence, and of course when these latest allegations surfaced I wanted to believe that they were wrong, but in my gut I feel that someone knew what was going on and allowed it to happen. This is not the first time that the team's behavior has been scrutinized and criticized, and the truth is that each new instance makes it worse. Everything that the team has accomplished now gets called into question and is tarnished by association.

Even if it turns out that a lone equipment manager was acting on his own, the air of impropriety surrounding the team won't go away. I'm not a parent, but I'm sure a lot of parents are having difficult conversations with their children about what's going on and what it means. Teams should not put their fans in such a position, especially young ones.

Outside of New England a lot of people hate the Patriots and/or Tom Brady. I used to think that was silly, but even if I don't feel that way myself, I'm beginning to understand why others might. To invoke another sport analogically, it's kind of like what happened with Barry Bonds; the Patriots will always carry the stigma of all these unsavory incidents like an asterisk, even if it's only a mental one. It's indicative of a general and unfortunate trend in our society to cut corners, to bend rules or think one is above them.

I've seen scientists saying that the weather could account for the fluctuation in inflation pressure, and I want to believe that's the explanation. It's also possible that this behavior has been going on for years and that all the other NFL teams have done it too. There's a lot of missing information about who handles the game balls and what happens to them after they have been checked. It also raises the question of why there hasn't been stronger security around game balls, why teams supply balls and not the league. It's all pretty murky, but that's exactly the sort of environment that leads to situations like this.

For me, the worst part of it is knowing that the team doesn't need to resort to cheating or any sort of questionable behavior to win. Regardless of who knew about it, it's hugely disappointing that someone thought it was necessary. Of course I still want the Patriots to win another Super Bowl, and I'll still watch the game (and I'm sure the balls used for it will be very carefully monitored), but even another Lombardi trophy isn't going to alleviate the feelings of hurt and distaste this week has brought.

21 January 2015

Car Stuff Bonus: At the Auto Show

I went to the auto show again over the weekend. I went last year and didn't plan on going again this year; it isn't the sort of thing I feel like I need to attend every year, but my friend asked if I wanted to go and I thought why not?

The show draws tens of thousands of people each year, and not all of them are considering a vehicle purchase or cross-shopping in one location. There are a lot of people that, like me, just like cars. The average price of a new car is approaching $30,000, but one can get a good car for a lot less than that. Competition makes everyone try a little harder.

Plus it's admittedly fun to sit in the back seat of a $110,000 Audi (because you'd have someone driving you, duh), or to test the sound quality of various car audio systems. And there's always at least one surprise. The car that impressed both of us most was the Hyundai Genesis, a large luxury sedan that spans the $40,000-50,000 price bracket (depending on engine choice and option packages).

With its recent redesign it looks like it could be an Audi, and in fact you can get it with all-wheel-drive, just like an Audi. If you were blindfolded and put inside, and the logos and identifying markings were removed, you would most likely think you were in something German and a lot more expensive. And it has a ridiculous stereo system.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Genesis is that it isn't the top of Hyundai's lineup. I remember when the original Accent went on sale here in the mid-1980s for about $6000 (pricing was a prominent feature of its advertising). It was what we used to call a penalty box. Now three decades later there's a Hyundai, the Equus, that lists for ten times that amount.

Is anyone buying it? I don't know. It's much more of a status symbol back in Korea, Hyundai's home market, and if they can sell a few thousand of them a year in other countries it probably doesn't hurt the balance sheet very much. But as someone who has never been especially impressed with Hyundai's offerings (I don't necessarily dislike them, I just find them pretty uninspiring) I think the Genesis is the car that may end up having more of an impact.

20 January 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #34

Another 1980s Cadillac found its way in front of me, on the same day I spotted the 1971 Buick GS. It was parked near Tufts University (just a few yards from where the Green Line stop will be built, eventually) and is possibly being driven by a student. The area was busy with pedestrians and I had to work around a few of them to get these shots.
On the other hand, the Bruins plate on the front suggests this car belongs to a local. Either way, I was able to determine from looking at old brochures online that this is a 1982 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham sedan. The design didn't change much from 1980, when it was introduced, through 1985, when a redesign replaced it, but enough small things, like grille texture and the location of the front Cadillac badge, did change from year to year that I was able to pin it down.
It's a little odd that the exterior badges have been removed, but there were a few elements that distinguished a Fleetwood from a Sedan deVille. The small lamp between the front and rear doors, the crest on the side roof panel, and the molding running from the hood back along the side under the windows are all Fleetwood features. All Cadillacs of this vintage had another side molding running about halfway down the side, above the rear wheel opening and ending behind the front wheel opening. I don't know why this car doesn't have it. The missing badges and moldings suggest that the car may have been repainted.
A couple of other interesting things to note in this shot: the Smart in front of the Cadillac provides a nice bit of contrast, which is why I didn't crop it out. Also, the bumper sticker from the long-gone local music club the Channel, which used to be on Necco Street, off Summer on the waterfront. This car outlasted that venue.

19 January 2015

This/Last Week in Awesome, Delayed Long-Weekend Edition (1/17/15-ish)

Well, I had time to do this on Saturday but obviously I didn't. Even though I'm still not on a regular work schedule, the weekends have a way of getting away from me. That's no excuse, I know. Anyway...

Not sure if these are authentically from residents of each state or more of a perception thing. I say this mainly because the MA one is less true than it used to be. (Distractify via Dappered)

Two acquired tastes that don't go together at all, but do make for a good snark tumblr. (The A.V. Club)

I like the thinking behind this, even if I suspect the reality might not be as satisfying. (Beer & Brewing; those of you who are more wine drinkers may want to check out this instead)

And finally this/last week, some excellent aerial night photography. (Vincent Laforet via Dappered)

15 January 2015

Cheap Can Be Okay

This is a pretty nice pattern for something from Old Navy, and it was cheap too—marked down to about $15. (I used the "soft flash" setting, and this pic is a pretty accurate representation of the colors, though the red and blue are both a bit darker in person.)
Buying inexpensive clothing is often a gamble. Will the fabric be too thin, or feel cheap? Will the cut be too baggy, or too slim (to save on wholesale costs)? Will the buttons fall off within two weeks? How will the details of construction compare to other clothes I already own?

In this case I was concerned about a couple of things, both of which turned out to be all right. I ordered this online and had not seen it in a store, so I didn't know how accurate the online images' color representation was. More importantly, a lot of the patterned shirts I've seen from Old Navy are not aligned to the center placket and buttonholes. This one is, or I would not have ordered it. It's easy enough to tell from online images.

It's one of those things that I've come to take for granted in clothing construction that isn't universally followed, again for cost reasons. It costs more to create such patterns, and it costs more in terms of fabric used for each garment. The collar is also cut so the pattern is centered, and sometimes you see instances of that not being the case either, like this shirt (also from Old Navy).

I thought this practice had been abandoned by all but the lowest-end manufacturers, but clearly that isn't so. I looked through my other shirts and found only one instance of it, on a short-sleeve summer shirt from Lands' End that I paid about $8 for on clearance maybe five years ago. But the original selling price on that shirt was probably around $40, and at that price I think most shoppers expect center-aligned pattern matching. Back in December I came across a shirt I really liked at Target, but it suffered from this same issue. I could not buy it because I know it would bother me every time I looked at it.

The other issue that concerned me was fit. About 80% of Old Navy's men's shirts are now described as "slim fit." The meaning of this can vary considerably depending on the brand and what other fits are offered. As it happens, I had tried on one of their shirts a few months ago in a store, specifically because I wanted to know how the fit had been changed, and a slim fit XL fits pretty much the same as most of the other shirts I currently have, regardless of what size they are or what fit they purport to have.

What I found interesting is that this XL "slim fit" is a more comfortable overall fit on me than J. Crew's XL "classic fit," which I've been buying and wearing for some time. The cut of the Old Navy shirt is just a bit more accommodating through the body, and the sleeves are just a bit shorter, enough to feel less gangly. (About 15 years ago, when the cut of J. Crew's shirts was a bit more friendly and I could buy them in size L, I used to work with a guy who turned back the cuffs of his J. Crew shirts halfway, because they were too long for his arms, whereas they were fine on mine. At the time I kind of made fun of him a little, but since I've been buying their more recent shirts I better understand what he was going through.)

This one comes out favorably in construction and details too. The fabric is a little thin, but no worse than J. Crew's "lightweight" shirts, and it's very soft. The collar is narrow, but Old Navy is just following the prevailing trend there. It has a back collar button, which is unexpected and appreciated, even if it's not strictly necessary (it's hard to imagine anyone wearing this shirt with a tie, but it could be done, though it would have to be a skinny tie). There's a center back pleat, buttons on the sleeve plackets, the bottom buttonhole is horizontal.

Overall it feels like Old Navy is definitely stepping up its game a little. Perhaps they've seen J. Crew coming downmarket into their territory with their Factory stores and wanted to meet the challenge more directly. Even at its original price of $30 I would have felt like this was a reasonably good deal, and I'm interested to see if they stick with these improvements.

14 January 2015


I've been on the T during rush hour thousands of times, packed in shoulder to shoulder with everyone else trying to get either to work or back home. I think it's a safe assumption that the people standing next to me on any given ride are also accustomed to the conditions.

And yet... and yet yesterday I got the stink-eye from someone I accidentally bumped in the shoulder. Imagine that, riding in a jammed subway car and someone unintentionally makes contact with you? Hell, I'm surprised when it doesn't happen.

13 January 2015

Car Stuff: Make-Up Pic

Oh, hi there. I was a little busier than usual the past couple of days, and this slipped off my mental to-do list. So let's just toss out another through-the-windshield shot (which, along with my cropping, explains the low resolution) from back in July, taken as we were passing the repair shop I posted about last summer.
You can see part of the blue Ford van that's always parked out front, and next to it a cranberry-colored Pontiac Fiero, an awkward little mid-engine car from the 1980s. But what caught my eye was the early 1970s Cadillac to the left of the silver Chevrolet Tahoe.

From the grille, front bumper, and headlights I can tell it's either a '71 or '72. I don't know which body style it is, but I hope it's a Fleetwood Brougham, just because it was the top of the line, more expensive, more over the top, and just more Cadillac than an "ordinary" Coupe deVille or Sedan deVille. You can see one here.

09 January 2015

Retro Video Unit (1/9/15)

There are plenty of bands I haven't featured here, but there are also bands that are worth revisiting, and X is definitely one of those. They are sort of like The Replacements in the sense that they had a small but fanatical following while they were extant, but their influence across the ensuing decades is huge.

I love the twinned vocals of Exene Cervenka and John Doe, and this song shows them off well. From the 1982 album Under the Big Black Sun, here's "The Hungry Wolf."

(Happy birthday SM!)

08 January 2015

Full but Unfulfilled

When you are lazy and you are married to someone who is also lazy, and you don't go grocery shopping regularly, it's easy to succumb to the temptation of takeout and delivery food. We've been trying to do a better job on this, but tonight delivery won.

There's a pizza-sub place in Medford that makes an excellent cheeseburger panini (panino?) that comes with two kinds of cheese, grilled mushrooms and onions, and a nice side salad. I was really in the mood for one of those, but since we've been trying not to order out as much we hadn't ordered anything from that place in a few months, and to my great disappointment they have discontinued all the panini. Damn it.

I tried to fill the void with a cheeseburger sub, but it's just not the same. For one thing, it's a larger volume of food mainly due to the roll. I can finish one, but I don't always feel so great afterward. (Old habits die hard, and stuffing myself is something I used to be really good at. Maybe some time I'll tell the Uno story...) And our cravings can be remarkably specific, so if for whatever reason you can't have the thing you want, no substitution is going provide the same enjoyment regardless of how good it is.


Using tuna to get the dog to take her pain medication has worked pretty well, though she is less inclined to take it (or anything) from our hands than she used to be. To keep things interesting and offer a little variety we picked up a few cans of Newman's Organics dog food. Forming some of that into a blob around a pill makes for quite a tempting morsel.

But man, canned dog food is still a disgusting substance, just as it was 40 years ago when feeding the dog was one of the chores I did to earn my allowance. Just as slimy, just as smelly, just as gross. Even after washing my hands I can still detect it. Oh well, we do a lot for the sake of our pets...

06 January 2015

Cozy Legs

I had to get the flannel-lined jeans out of storage today. I only need them a few times each winter, but I'm glad I have them. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold, I think long underwear makes more sense; if you're just walking to the bus stop or taking the dog out, the extra layer inside the pants does enough to block the wind and creates some additional warmth.

I thought about getting another pair, but the ones I have are fine and don't need replacing, even though I've had them for at least a decade, maybe longer. I got mine from L.L. Bean and what they are selling today is basically unchanged, except now they are offered in three fits and the pattern of the flannel changes every year or so. (This year's is rather ugly, but if you don't cuff them no one will see it.)

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a pair from Old Navy, just to see what they were like. The fit was just a little snug, though they were described as "relaxed fit." The denim was dyed a really dark blue, which seemed out of place, and there was a tag that indicated the dye could rub off on lighter-colored clothing and upholstery. Who needs that? The flannel was a red-and-black gingham pattern, which was fine, but the leg openings felt a little too narrow; there's no way they would have fit over boots.

I also have a pair of flannel-lined khakis, which I don't get as many opportunities to wear, but since it's going to stay so cold all week I may wear them just for some variety.

05 January 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #15

With the previous installment of Fantasy Garage we finally made it to the 1970s, an extremely challenging decade for America's auto manufacturers. There was a serious lack of foresight about conditions affecting the market, some willful blindness about the growing popularity of Japanese imports, and a disinclination to use existing vehicles from European divisions to fill stateside product needs that resulted in some seriously subpar cars being brought to market.

But to be fair, Detroit got some cars very right in the '70s. Ford's Mustang caught General Motors by surprise and it took them a couple of years to get their competitor cars to market, By the 1969 model year Ford was already moving the Mustang away from its sporty roots and toward something more like a mini-Thunderbird (and the portly 1971 Mustang was considered a design failure), so when it was time to develop the second generation F-body, GM wanted to assert itself with a more dramatic design.
1970 Chevrloet Camaro
By that measure alone, the 1970* Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were successful. The design was definitely influenced by certain Ferrari models (particularly the swooping roofline), but given a distinctly American interpretation, and differentiated with characteristics of the two different brands: the Camaro got pairs of round tail lights on each side like the Corvette, while the Firebird got a new take on the horizontal tail lights it had worn since its introduction.

(*While referred to as 1970 models, the cars did not go on sale until late February due to some engineering issues; by today's convention, with a release at that point in the calendar year they would have simply been designated 1971s.)

The designs fared well until GM was forced to accommodate the federal government's bumper standards for the 1974 model year (I don't know how they got away with not adding them to the front for 1973, as was required on other cars), at which point they were given slanted noses and bulkier, less elegant tails, along with a significant weight gain. (It's easy to identify a '74 Camaro or Firebird because it has the chunky bumpers but not the wraparound rear window, which didn't appear until '75.) From there the front and rear designs got tweaked every couple of years, getting slightly less attractive each time, until 1981, the final year of the second generation.
1971 Pontiac Firebird Formula
So, which F-body gets a spot in my Fantasy Garage? Because of the bumpers, it has to be pre-1974. Beyond that, I have to go with a Firebird mainly because I've always liked the front and rear end designs a little better than the Camaro's. It's not going to be a Trans Am, because they're just too silly-looking. You could get all or nearly all of a Trans Am's performance in a less flamboyant package by choosing a Firebird Formula (I particularly like the twin hood scoops). And I'll specify a 1971, just because for that model year only Firebirds had little louvers on the front fenders that I like.

However, I never liked those "honeycomb" wheels, so I'll take mine with a set of good old Rally II wheels, like on the red Fiebird in this brochure image:
Images from Old Car Brochures (top); Tore Tangerud (middle and bottom).

04 January 2015

This Week in Awesome (1/3/15)

I didn't post anything last weekend and I don't want to start this year by repeating that, so even though it's late on Sunday night I'm giving you what I got...

There are some crazy people in this world. And sometimes they climb to places they aren't supposed to be and bring cameras. (The Roosevelts via Boy Genius Report)

What are the historical and cultural origins of clothing colors being "assigned" (pink for girls, blue for boys)? (Smithsonian magazine via Put This On)

Watch nerds can geek out to this video of a Rolex being disassembled. (Esquire Style Blog)

And finally this week, the Smithsonian has posted 40,000 images online of works from its collections, most of which have never been seen by the public. (The Verge)

03 January 2015

Overheard: Beating the Clock Edition

Yesterday we stopped at our local coffee shop in Medford Square. A mother was fixing her drink rather hurriedly while her son, roughly five (small enough to fit under the counter overhang), fidgeted while waiting for her.

She finished, grabbed his hand, and hustled him toward the exit while saying, "Come on, we gotta go before someone wants to know why I left your brother standing alone on the sidewalk."

01 January 2015


Time has a way of getting away from us, doesn't it? Not just in terms of another year gone (though that's naturally on people's minds today) but even just in small ways, like me forgetting to post anything on the final day of the year.

Truthfully, 2014 was not what I wanted or expected it to be, in countless ways large and small. And yet I reached the end of it feeling that I'd learned things (as I hope is the case with each of you):
  • I made progress in selling on eBay, not to the point where I can earn a living from it, but enough that I found a garment in a store and knew immediately that I could make money by buying and reselling it. I'm hoping to be able to repeat that at least occasionally this year.
  • A Proper Bostonian and I embarked on a joint creative project, new territory for both of us. I didn't write about it here because I didn't feel I was ready to (and still am not), but also because I still prefer to maintain some distance between my online and offline "selves" and endeavors.
  • I was reminded several times how much I miss daily interaction with my former coworkers, and how fortunate and grateful I am to have been able to spend six years with such a talented, good-humored, and generous group of people.
  • Our dog, approaching 13 and a half, needs us more than ever. Caring for her requires more effort and at times feels like a chore and a burden, but at the same time I have come to appreciate her presence in our lives more deeply, and every day that she's with us and wanting to eat, to go outside, to get a scratch behind the ear, prolongs our wonderful dog-parenting experience.
For me, there are already signs of improvement for this new year over the past few. Being slightly superstitious after five-plus decades on our planet, I'll discuss them when I feel ready. And if it can happen for me, it can happen for any of you. It's going to be a better year, so let's get at it...

30 December 2014

Processing Your Request...

Yesterday I went and poked around in Macy's downtown, something I do only a couple of times a year these days. I figured after Christmas was a good time to go and see what might be on sale.

At one point I wanted to know what the final sale price of an item would come out to, so I went in search of a price scanner. Remember the fuss about those? It was probably close to a decade ago that the state required stores to install them as a means of ensuring consumers had access to accurate price information.

I went in search of a scanner, which seemed to be less common than they once were on the main floor at Macy's. When I found one, it was stuck on the "processing your request..." screen, with no apparent way to escape from it. I walked around the floor some more and found another scanner, which was displaying some sort of error message. There was a box to click "OK" just like on a computer screen, and since I'm now accustomed to touch screens I touched it.

I didn't think the scanners were set up to respond to touch input, but this one did something and eventually displayed what looked very much like a standard Windows operating system desktop, only much smaller and with only three or four icons. None of those appeared to grant access to the magic price-scanning function, so I again moved on.

I found two other scanners displaying their version of the Windows desktop, and never did find a working scanner, so at that point I gave up and left. So much for consumer assistance...

29 December 2014

Car Stuff: Oddities

Today was supposed to have a new Fantasy Garage, but my brain is still in holiday-week mode so I'm choosing to postpone it until next week. I saw a purple Ferrari this afternoon but it passed too quickly for me to get a photo. It got me thinking about other weird and unusual cars that I've come across. I have been able to get pics of some of them, so I might as well start posting those.
I was in Medford Square on a Saturday afternoon a couple of months ago when I spotted this. It's a Toyota Yaris, which is the smallest, least expensive Toyota. It's understandable if you've never seen one, as I don't think Toyota sells a lot of them in this country compared to its other models. If you have seen one, chances are it was the four-door version, which sells better. Subcompact two-door hatchbacks are nearly extinct in the US (Hyundai has dropped the two-door Accent, which competes directly with this car), unless they are specialty models like the Mini Cooper (and even Mini has given in and started offering a four-door version of the Cooper).

I thought it was a little odd that someone would get a car with such a low starting price and then spend money on aftermarket wheels. There was a time when most cars came with wheel covers, and if you wanted your ride to look sportier you bought a set of chrome wheels for it. Today almost all cars come with alloy rims, though it seems the Yaris may be an exception to that. And after looking at this photo more closely, I think these may in fact be wheel covers, of the sort you can get at Pep Boys or Advance Auto Parts, and which would cost a lot less than alloy rims. So I stand corrected; whatever the reasons for choosing the Yaris (certainly not looks), thrift does seem to have been a factor.

27 December 2014

Retro Video Unit (12/26/14)

Well, no video of The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" has surfaced in the past year (not that I thought it would, but you never know), so I dug around and came up with a couple of other original Christmas songs by rock acts.

First, The Kinks with "Father Christmas," a typically cynical and Kinkian take on the holiday:

And for something maybe just a bit happier, though still with a tinge of melancholy, "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders (with an introduction from a British TV show):

24 December 2014

Weird Weather

We're having some strange weather for this time of year in New England. Along with steady rain the temperatures have climbed above 60 through the day and evening, and will be holding overnight and into Christmas Day.

It feels strange that it's so warm at Christmas, but by New Years Eve it will be back down to the 20s.

Merry Christmas, if that's your jam. I'll be taking a brief break from posting until we're back home, so maybe Friday night or Saturday?

23 December 2014

Today's Wish

Someday I will live in a home where, when I shave in the shower, the hot water will last for as long as I need it.

22 December 2014

Car Stuff: The '80s Called

I spotted this old clunker just a couple of weeks ago. I was over on Broadway in Somerville to get a haircut, right near where the Mrs. and I lived from 1995 to 2006. It was also snowing a little, which you can kind of tell from the photo.
The car is a Ford LTD Crown Victoria station wagon. When this generation was introduced as a 1979 model, it was still called just LTD, but by 1983 Ford had decided to use that name for its Fairmont-based midsize car, so the fullsize got the CV tag added. The revised grille also appeared for '83, so this car can't be any older than that, but I don't think they offered a non-wood-trimmed version until '84. It stayed around for at least a few model years, so it's from somewhere in the mid-1980s.

Seeing it parked in the otherwise empty convenience store parking lot, I got a vibe off it that it has been owned by the same person since new. Obviously I have no way of knowing that, but I can make up stuff to go along with these photos if I want to. Also, I cropped it less than I typically would, because I just liked how it looked in front of the triple decker.

21 December 2014

This Week in Awesome (12/20/14)

This may or may not be the last TWiA of the year. Things do tend to slow down on the internet around this point, so we'll just have to see how it goes this week...

Remember all those high-profile flops from the earlyish days of the web? Well, maybe some of them weren't such bad ideas after all. (Wired via Kempt)

Vulture presents its choices for the 20 best comedy sketches of the year.

Drone photography is now a thing, to the extent that someone has chosen the year's best drone photos. (Yahoo Tech via Dronestagram)

Did you watch the last episode of The Colbert Report and wonder who some of the folks were in the big sing-along? (There were 100.) Talking Points Memo has you covered with screen grabs and IDs.

If your smartphone gets stolen, what exactly happens to it? This is quite interesting. (Wired)

And finally this week, Darlene Love has been singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (one of my favorite Christmas songs) on David Letterman's shows since 1986. Vanity Fair talked with her and Paul Shaffer, who helped inaugurate the tradition, about how it came about and what it's been like; the article includes YouTube clips of some of her appearances over the years. And since Letterman is retiring this May, Love appeared on the Late Show Friday night to sing the song one last time. (And no offense to U2, but when I think of this song, it's always Ms. Love's voice I hear.)

19 December 2014

The Lineup

Three interpretations of the style known as the service boot:
From left, the Wolverine 1000 Mile in rust; the L.L. Bean (made by Chippewa) Katahdin Iron Works engineer boot in cordovan (color, not leather); and the Frye Arkansas in black. All of these are made in USA.

The Wolverines, with their leather soles, are probably the "dressiest" of the three; the color works in their favor for that too. The Beans are the most work boot-like, and I find it a little odd that they don't have any speed hooks. The Fryes split the difference with a welt that matches both the leather and the sole; I wore them with wool trousers and a tweed sportcoat last Friday night.

I still wear my Caterpillar work boots more than any of these, probably because they are made for walking and standing, and they are the easiest to put on and take off.

18 December 2014

Medford Christmas Decorating

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

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

17 December 2014

Snack Time

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

16 December 2014

More or Less

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

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

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

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

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

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