24 April 2014

CharlieCard Secrets

After the MBTA switched to its current payment system, I was issued a special pass that looks like a regular CharlieCard but has my photo on the other side.

Over the past few months I've been having minor issues with getting the card to read properly when I board a bus. (I've never had a problem going through a fare gate in a subway station.) I thought it could be that the card was simply getting old and the sensor had somehow weakened, or that it was some other, more obscure reason.

Bus drivers observe me struggling to get the card to register until I give up and pull it out of my wallet, even though the readers are generally capable if reading it through one thin layer of leather. Rarely a driver will break the silence and offer a bit of advice that turns out to be genuinely useful.

On my own I figured out that the chip in the card is near the top of my wallet, but I didn't know until a driver told me that moving the card (and my wallet) more slowly toward and over the reader would help read it on the first pass.

Likewise, I didn't know until today that the reader is located on the right side of the pad. I have a tendency to hold my wallet near the middle of the pad, which probably explains why I've been having problems getting my card to read properly. And this knowledge would also end up being a benefit to the drivers if they shared it more readily with passengers, because faster card reading means faster boarding overall.

22 April 2014

Car Stuff: Look-Alikes

I took yesterday off from blogging. I know it's only a holiday in Massachusetts, but I knew I was going to need some prep time for this post.

Back before the oil crises of the 1970s sent American car manufacturers running for cover and forced them to reinvent the way they designed and built cars, it was easier to identify cars by make and model with just a quick glance. Now, fuel economy standards require cars to be more aerodynamic, which has led to more steeply raked windshields in front and more fastback-like rooflines in back, to the point where the appearance of cars is starting to become more homogeneous, particularly in the sedan category.

Designers are putting more effort into establishing a unifying design language that plants a similarly-styled corporate "face" on all the models offered by a particular brand (think of BMW's twin "kidneys," Kia's top-and-bottom chrome "teeth," Lincoln's split "wings," or Lexus's "spindle" shape), which is great if you are looking at a car head-on, but from the side it's getting more difficult to tell one car from another, and from the rear many cars now have tail lights with similar shapes. (The advent of LED technology for vehicle lighting means tail lights look more distinctive when they are lit at night, but that's not necessarily evident in the daytime.) At the same time, safety concerns have led to raised door sills (there's a lot of stuff packed inside those doors), resulting in reduced glass area and making passenger compartments appear more "squished down" from the outside.

Let me show you a few examples. This is a Ford Fusion, a midsize car that has been quite popular, selling around 300,000 units last year:
(Photo from Ford's website)

And this is the redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata, another popular midsize car that competes with the Fusion. This version was introduced last week at the New York Auto Show and will go on sale later this year:
(Photo from Hyundai via Autoblog)

Here's another popular midsize sedan, the Nissan Altima:
(Photo from Nissan's website)

And one more newly redesigned model that's not on sale yet, the Chrysler 200:
(Photo from Chrysler via Autoblog)

To me, the Chrysler looks most like the Fusion, but compared to the chrome-trimmed turd it's replacing, it looks fantastic, and the early first-drive reviews have been quite favorable.

Here is a Chevrolet Impala, which is a bit larger than all of the above cars but has many of the same styling elements:
(Photo from Chevrolet's website)

And here is a Toyota Avalon, which is a direct competitor to the Impala:
(Photo from Toyota's website)

See what I'm getting at? The designs are aggressive and modern, but they all kind of look the same. And more subjectively, I don't care for such swoopy rooflines on sedans. I miss more defined trunk lids.

Next time we'll look at tail light shapes, using these same vehicles as examples.

(Credit where it's due: this post was directly inspired by this one on Curbside Classic.)

19 April 2014

This Week in Awesome (4/19/14)

We have a busy weekend ahead of us, so I want to take care of this before I forget...

The source of this, a real-estate blog, is unexpected, but it's interesting just the same. (Movoto via The A.V. Club)

You may have seen this building and wondered how stable it really is; in hindsight, "more so than it used to be" is not exactly comforting. (Note that the text glosses over exactly how it was reinforced, but I think the audio may cover it.) (99% Invisible via The Verge)

Not exactly awesome but still worth reading: seemingly the most prolonged death spiral of a major retailer that I can recall. Could it have been avoided? Possibly, if this guy wasn't in charge. (Salon)

And finally this week, This is another of those "if you're of at least a certain age..." stories about a strangely wonderful pop-culture artifact from the late-1970s/early-'80s period, but the good part is that it's filled with YouTube clips for the benefit of those who are too young to remember, and as the article points out, the shows are readily available if you have cable. (Vulture)

Retro Video Unit (4/18/14)

Sticking with the '80s for now, in part because there's plenty of good material: "Let's Dance" by David Bowie, from the 1983 album of the same name. This is one of those videos that anyone who spent any amount of time watching MTV during its early golden years (see what I did there?) undoubtedly saw, probably repeatedly.

I've always been a big fan of David Bowie, and maybe this album isn't as artistically relevant as some of his other material, but as a pop-music document of its time, it has held up well.

18 April 2014

Overheard: Class Notes Edition

On Wednesday afternoon I was listening to a conversation between two men who happened to be waiting for the bus with me, who clearly knew each other but seemingly not that well. Both were about a decade older than me, and I think they might have just gotten off work at the Stop & Shop because we were across the street from it (which would also explain their acquaintance).

At one point one of the men said to the other, "You went to [area Catholic high school]? I went to [area Catholic high school]! How come I don't remember you?" (The eventual answer was that he was a few years older than the other guy, and we all know how little attention seniors pay to underclassmen.)

The bus came, we all got on, and their conversation continued, turning to mutually remembered classmates. Of one person, one asked the other if he was in touch regularly and the other responded, "Ah, him I mostly see at, you know, wakes and funerals."

Then the second asked, "Do you remember ______? Blonde hair, tough as nails? Used to think, she's probably gonna end up in jail? Know what she ended up doin'? US marshal."

16 April 2014

Watch Wednesday Follow-Up: In Need of Service

A little over a year ago I bought a Seiko solar chronograph as a "treat myself" bonus for shoveling a lot of snow last winter. I really liked the watch and wore it a lot. In fact, it became pretty much my #1 everyday choice.

A couple of months ago I noticed that the watch had stopped. This was surprising, since it's powered by light and I always leave it where it's exposed to plenty. Holding it up to a light bulb got it going again, and everything was fine. But it kept happening, and finally a couple of weeks ago it stopped and wouldn't restart at all.

The watch came with a three-year warranty, but obtaining service requires sending the watch to Seiko's only US service facility in New Jersey, so off it will go. I hope it can be fixed.

15 April 2014

Doggie Delicacies

As our dog has gotten older, her appetite has decreased. We've taken to adding enticing things to her regular food to try to get her to eat more. To the plain yogurt we've always given her (for coat and digestion), we've added chicken broth and cheese, and now I'm making scrambled eggs to crumble up and mix in with the rest. I don't think I've ever cooked scrambled eggs for myself, but my dog is basically getting a kibble omelet...

14 April 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #25

Sometimes unusual cars show up at odd places and times. A month or so ago, when it was still quite cold, the Mrs. needed to do a mundane errand on a Sunday afternoon. I decided to go along for the ride and to get out of the house for a while, which prompted her to suggest we entertain the dog by taking her for the ride.
That meant I would have to walk the dog around the parking lot while the Mrs. took care of her task, instead of just waiting in the car. But if I hadn't gotten out of the car in that parking lot, I would not have spotted this totally '80s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Check out the T-tops! And those wheels! (I wonder if the headlights are stuck in the open position?)
Back then, this was absolutely the ultimate car to have for a certain type of macho dude, who probably also had a substantial mustache and a Members Only jacket. I'm not being critical; that's just how it was. I have no idea what sort of person owns this car now, but the owner does seem to be making an effort to keep it clean and in good condition, which made it all the more surprising that it was out on the road in late winter.
The third-generation Firebird (and its cousin the Chevy Camaro) was made for 11 model years, from 1982-92. Changes during that time were fairly minimal compared to the changes the car had received every couple of years during the 1970s. I can say that this car is at least a 1985, as that's when the louvers appeared in the hood. And if you look closely at the back of the car, you can make out the center brake light under the spoiler, making this at least a 1987 (cars first got these lights for 1986, but for that year only, Firebirds had theirs at the outside top of the rear window), or possibly an '88 or '89; it's also possible it's a '90, though that was a shortened production year. (A redesigned front appeared on the 1991 models.)

13 April 2014

This Week in Awesome (4/12/14)

All right, I've got a big bag of internet and I'm eager to share it with you...

Twin Peaks fans: this one's for you. (The A.V. Club)

We all know that the presence of people of color on the major TV networks' programming does not really reflect our society (though it's certainly better than it used to be), but if you've ever wondered just exactly how it breaks down, I have some statistics for you, presented in a convenient visual format. (The Awl)

The punk band Fugazi hasn't performed in over a decade, but there's a vast archive of its live shows that it has been digitizing and offering for sale online. (The Verge)

Staying with music, this is one of those "old thing in context of same spot in present day" features that websites love to do, this one involving album cover photos. (The Guardian via The A.V. Club)

I was too young to have any awareness of the 1964 World's Fair, but it's one of those events in our country's cultural history that, in hindsight, turned out to be a key inflection point. (The New York Times)

And finally this week, in honor of Mad Men Day (finally!), a couple of bits of amusement: a promo for The Simpsons that mocks the frustrating, information- and context-free nature of AMC's end-of-episode "next week on Mad Men" bits (Splitsider); and a somewhat more elaborate spoof in the form of an extended trailer for an imaginary blaxploitation version of MM that I would totally watch (NSFW/K, language). (Slate via TV Tattle)

10 April 2014

Proved Wrong

A few weeks back I noted the "normcore" thing going on in fashion, and predicted that the New York Times Style section would do a piece on it in six months, when it was already over. I'm a bit behind on my newspaper reading, but in perusing last week's Style section I found there was just such an article. (I believe I read that the Times recently appointed a new fashion editor, who may be responsible for the improved response time in covering trends like this.)

08 April 2014

Catching Up

I know there was no TWiA last weekend. We were busier than usual and I hadn't gathered much decent material for it during the week, plus Comcast did their "watch all the HBO stuff you want free online this week only" thing again. I decided to watch the first two seasons of Veep, which is an outstanding show and I'm really glad I did, but it took up a lot of time that I might otherwise have been spending online looking for interesting stuff for TWiA.

Then on Sunday we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was excellent, really just as good as The Avengers. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I will say that plenty of significant stuff happens that will directly impact next year's Avengers sequel and the rest of the Marvel universe. And Guardians of the Galaxy, which is part of that universe and comes out in August, looks just ridiculous in the best possible way.

07 April 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #5

I've been attempting to execute this feature in chronological order, and I started with 1960 because I've always had more affection for cars of the '60s and '70s than for older ones. But I knew that at some point I would come up with a car from the '50s that I wanted to include, and I finally remembered it so now my attempt at order it messed up, and that's just how the middle-aged brain works.

After the end of World War II, the car companies rushed to restart civilian auto production, but they had to make do with warmed-over versions of existing designs from before the war. The first American company to put a completely new design into production was Studebaker (a company whose heritage went back to making wagons in the mid-1800s but would end up not surviving the 1960s). Being smaller than the Big Three actually made them more nimble and, in this instance, better able to get a new design into production more quickly. That car went on sale for the 1947 model year, ahead of the competition by a year or more.
But the car I'm interested in is the version that came later, for 1953. Its design is extremely advanced for the time: it's remarkably low compared to other cars of the period, and has a fresh simplicity that mostly wouldn't find its way to offerings from other American car companies for another decade.

As beautiful as these cars were and are, they were plagued with production problems, and Studebaker seems to have done everything possible to sabotage its chances to succeed. This article from Curbside Classic has more photos and offers a good overview of what was going on within the company that would soon lead to an ill-fated merger with the dying Packard, and to the company's complete demise by 1966. But I still want one in my fantasy garage.

(Image from hemmings.com)

04 April 2014

Retro Video Unit (4/4/14)

After the INXS video two weeks ago, I started to think about what other groups' videos I've overlooked. Eurythmics was one of the top groups in the early days of MTV, and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" is a good example of a relatively early music video. (I also have always had a thing for song titles with parentheses in them, and for women in menswear.)

Anyone besides me see a resemblance between early '80s Annie Lennox and Christina Hendricks?

03 April 2014

Springtime Walkin'

Back in October I mentioned the Chippewa-made boots I wanted from L.L. Bean. I did get a couple of Bean gift cards for Christmas, and by combining those with a couple of $10 rewards from my credit card, I was able to get them with only a very small contribution from my own pocket. I got to wear them once during the winter, after January's snow had melted but before February's had fallen. Now that the snow is gone completely I've been able to wear them a few more times and I think they are a really nice product.

Interestingly, I had tried on a slightly different version of the boots a few years back in a Bean store and found that they ran small, but the reviews of this version indicated that they ran true to size or perhaps even a little large, so I ordered 10.5, which is down half a size from what I normally wear in athletic shoes. I may have been able to get away with size 10, but I still prefer having room up front.

The extra space would also be useful for insoles, but so far I haven't felt like I need them in these boots. The cushioning in the insoles is quite good and they have been comfortable to walk in. I imagine the rubber soles and the inner layer of cork contribute to that comfort as well.

The uppers are oiled leather and they have picked up a few stray marks so far, but in some cases those can be "erased" by rubbing the area around the mark to redistribute the oils. I do wish there were speed hooks at the top instead of eyelets all the way up (I believe the version of this boot that J. Crew is selling has speed hooks), but I think I could have them added by a cobbler and I may do so.
This picture in direct sunlight shows the burgundy color very well. Indoors it's a bit more subtle and tends to appear brown, but I tend to prefer subtle, and I like the small bit of contrast provided by the natural-color welt. The welt construction makes these resoleable and thus a better value.

01 April 2014

Overheard: Poor Grasp of Spanish Edition

Over the weekend at a bar in Salem, while sitting adjacent to the bar, this was overheard between a bartender and one of a group that appeared to be regulars:

"...so we'll be doing that for Cinco de Mayo."
"When's Cinco de Mayo?"

31 March 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #24

There's an auto repair place on the corner diagonally opposite where I wait for the bus. There are always cars parked in their lot, some of which are for sale, while others I guess are in the process of being worked on. This car appeared in January and I thought it was being driven by one of the garage employees, but then I noticed it didn't have license plates.

I took pictures of it on a nice day mid-month when the early-season snow had melted, but I lost them in my iPhone mishap a couple of weeks later. Fortunately the car was still there, so I was able to go back and get more pictures, but by that point it was somewhat more boxed in by other cars and the shop's tow trucks, and I could not get as many good angles.
It's a 1972 Pontiac LeMans Sport convertible with some modifications. 1972 was the last year General Motors offered convertibles in its mid-size lines; convertible sales were declining, and Ford and Chrysler had already started to drop some or all of their offerings. GM held onto its full-size convertibles for a few more years, since they were more profitable. So this is definitely a rare car: according to data I found online, less than 3,500 1972 LeMans Sport convertibles were built. How many of those have survived for more than 40 years? Probably less than half of that number.

It disappoints me a bit to see such an unusual car as this get altered instead of preserved in its original form, though the changes are only cosmetic. The color appears to match up with one of three shades of blue Pontiac offered in '72, and while the stripes could be one of the other two blues, they were definitely added later. All the exterior badges have been stripped, and I think it's obvious these are not the original wheels and tires.
Then there are the bumpers, which have been painted to match the body color. The high-performance GTO offered a body-color front bumper from 1968-72, and later Pontiac made it optional on other LeMans models, but an entirely different bumper and grille assembly was used; someone tried to make this car evoke the look of a GTO from the same year without changing the existing parts (probably for financial reasons). It's aesthetically questionable, yet it does make this car look distinctive. (I'd be interested to know if they painted over the chrome or stripped the bumpers first.)

Around back the same thing was done to the rear bumper. I've seen customized GTOs with this treatment, but as far as I've been able to determine, Pontiac never offered it on any GTO or LeMans.
All '72 LeMans Sport convertibles came with bucket seats, which is nice, though you probably would have had to pay extra for a console. This car is a bit rough in spots but is solid overall, and could either be returned to its original specs, or driven as is and brought to car shows as a "restomod" due to its cosmetic alterations. Regardless, I'm glad it showed up in the repair shop lot.

30 March 2014

This Week in Awesome (3/29/14)

I didn't find as many goodies as I was hoping to this week, but I'd rather post what I have than skip another week.

The Simpsons is full of all sorts of clever stuff, some of which is hanging out subtly in the background. (Mental Floss; thanks to Dr. Hackenbush)

Time-lapse of a thunderstorm: pretty cool. (Vimeo via The Awl)

This fan-made compilation of three decades of influential movie visual effects is a fun look back. (Vimeo via Laughing Squid)

And finally this week, a parody ad from last night's Saturday Night Live with a bit more edge than is typical.

28 March 2014

Clearly Bonkers

I have a propensity to make fun of ugly clothing and shoes, but I've just seen something so bizarre I don't know what to say:
These are in fact shoes with clear (smoke gray) plastic uppers. I guess you might want to wear these if you have really attractive feet, or an amazing sock collection you want to show off? Regardless, plastic shoes are a bad idea—they don't allow for any air circulation and feet will end up getting clammy. (Why do you think Crocs have holes? It's not for appearance.)

In case you're wondering, these are available at Urban Outfitters. They retail for $80 but are currently 25% off.

Last Bus Home

Tonight the MBTA begins a year-long experiment offering extended service on Friday and Saturday nights. Service on all subway lines, the Silver Line, and select "key bus routes" (the most heavily used ones) will run for approximately 90 minutes later than normal. This is long overdue, and I hope that it turns out to be viable, by which I mean I hope enough riders take advantage of it to make it worth the added cost to the T, and they decide to make it permanent.

For decades Boston has been mockingly referred to as "the city that always sleeps" because life and activity seemed to wind down soon after midnight, but that was due in no small part to the fact that once the clock passed midnight people had to start thinking about whether or not they would be able to make that last train or bus. (Some years back there was a half-hearted attempt to offer late-night service by running buses along the subway routes, but that was an inadequate solution.)

20 to 25 years ago I was frequently out late on weekends, going to see live music or late movies, and I know the experience of missing that last bus and having to walk 30 minutes or more to get home. There were occasions when I did not mind the walk, or even welcomed it, but those definitely did not occur during the winter months. I certainly would have appreciated being able to stay for the end of a band's set at TT the Bear's or Johnny D's, knowing that there would still be a bus coming along that I could take home.

These days I rarely go out at night, and if I do it's by car. And we have Uber now, which is great, but not everyone can afford to use such a service. When I was in college we would have been thrilled to have extended late-night service on the T, and I suspect that a lot of students will be making use of this amenity. I imagine it will also be helpful to those who work in restaurants, bars, and clubs, or even maintenance jobs, and it may prevent at least a few inebriated people from getting behind the wheel.

Extending T service has broader symbolic value as well. It indicates to those who live here already, and those who may be thinking of moving here, that the region is acknowledging that not everyone lives a 9-to-5 lifestyle, that there is life here after dark, that transit options need to be available in order to make this the sort of place where people want to live.

Civic leaders and business people like to use the phrase "world-class city" in describing Boston, and sometimes I think they are doing so aspirationally, as in "we would like to think of this as a world-class city, and we hope you will too." Viable late-night public transit, even it it's only offered on weekends, is one way to help those aspirations become reality.

26 March 2014

Eighteen More Days

It's almost that time again: Mad Men returns on April 13th with the first half of its final season. I'm not happy about the split season because it's clearly being done for monetary reasons, but it's beyond our control.

The promotional engines have been revving for a couple of weeks already, so I'm not showing you anything new; I chose to highlight these images simply because I like them.
The poster was released first, and I love the vibrant colors; the posters for all the other seasons were pretty subdued. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that I learned that there was a different, horizontal version of it:
I saw a story on BuzzFeed that mentioned it, then a couple of hours later I saw it full-size, on the side of a T bus.

I have an 11" x 17" version of the poster for season two that I bought on eBay several years ago. I don't know why I didn't try to get any of the others, but it would be nice to assemble a complete set of them at some point.
Then came the promo photos, which were taken at Los Angeles International Airport. The Mrs. grew up in southern California and recognized this tiled wall from passing through LAX.
Matthew Weiner stated in recent interviews that people should not attempt to read too much into these images, but we've been conditioned over the past seven years to read into every aspect of the show, so it's difficult not to do so here. What I noticed right away about this shot is that Roger (John Slattery, far left) is the only one who does not have some sort of briefcase or carry-on bag. Does that mean anything? Also, Joan (Christina Hendricks) is standing next to Roger. Does that mean they end up together? We probably won't know for sure until next spring.

25 March 2014

Goodbye, Winter

I've had a snow shovel leaning against the house on the back porch all winter, so that when it snows I don't have to trudge through whatever fell to get to the garage. Over the weekend I looked at it and thought about putting it away, then decided to leave it there a bit longer, because I remember what happened on March 31st, 1997.

On Wednesday we're going to get a couple of inches of snow in greater Boston, which should close the book on this unpleasant winter. There hasn't been a serious storm in over a month; the systems have either been missing us entirely or just brushing us with dustings, but we haven't yet been able to have any sort of sustained mild temperatures.

Nevertheless I put away my lined pants and my insulated waterproof boots. I'm not going to need those things again until next winter. Opening Day at Fenway Park is a week from Friday, so spring must be here, right?

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #4

Just how large will my fantasy garage need to be? That's one of the many wonderful things about imagination: It doesn't know any boundaries, nor does it require any.

A lot of automotive historians point to the middle of the 1960s as a pivot point of sorts for the American automotive industry. Many argue that beyond 1965 the Big Three started to get a little too drunk on their own success, which led to complacency and stylistic overindulgence. Others suggest that the introduction in 1965 of the Ford LTD (and soon after, Chevrolet's hasty response, the Caprice, followed in '66 by Plymouth's VIP) initiated an upward climb of mainstream, lower-priced car brands that eventually caused a commoditizing of luxury, which had the (possibly?) unintended effect of cheapening true luxury cars and led to the decade referred to by some as the Brougham Era (not meant in a complimentary way).

For me, 1965 stands out because that's the year when Plymouth, Ford, and Chevrolet all had full lineups of full-size, compact, and mid-size offerings. The compacts—the Valiant, Falcon, and Corvair—had all arrived for 1960 (and after overestimating the public's desire for innovation, Chevrolet would course-correct by adding the more conventional Chevy II/Nova for '62). Ford was the first to fill the space between compacts and full-sizes with its Fairlane, also in '62. GM graduated its Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac "senior compacts" to mid-size status for '64 and added a Chevrolet variant, and Plymouth went the opposite way for '65 by adding larger-bodied cars above a refreshed version of its '63-'64 full-size Plymouth, which was already somewhat smaller than its competition and after losing a few inches in length became the '65 mid-size.
All of this is long-winded preamble to this week's fantasy garage choice: a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Super Sport like this one, but a convertible. It's actually difficult to choose just one car out of four years' worth (1964-'67 is considered the first generation of GM intermediates) of models from four brands; I'm also very partial to the '64 Olds Cutlass, the '67 Malibu, and the '66-'67 Pontiac LeMans. (Given what I wrote at the top of this post, maybe I'll come back and add another one later.)

(Above: 1965 Buick Skylark; 1964 Oldsmobile Vista-Cruiser; 1964 Pontiac GTO convertible.)

So why the Malibu SS? All four of the 1964 GM A-body intermediates were attractive designs that were simply styled and had a sense of rightness to their proportions that it seemed the full-size cars were already starting to abandon in pursuit of size as a marketing tool. I just find the Chevrolet version the most appealing, and I prefer the styling details like the grille and tail lights on the '65 to the '64.

Also, as you can see from the top picture above, the SS model has clean sides with no trim other than the molding around the wheel openings and along the bottom of the body side, which I think highlights its looks to best advantage and looks nicer than the side trim on other Chevelle models. And let's be honest: an SS would be worth more, especially with the bucket seats shown below and a console.
And there's one other reason. In 1965, for that one model year only, Chevrolet offered a color choice that is one of my all-time favorites. Called Evening Orchid, it was a metallic silvery purple that was not especially popular and is thus quite obscure, and in the Chevelle line it was only available on the Malibu SS, so of course my '65 would have to be that color. (Pontiac also offered the color for '65; their version was called Iris Mist.) You can see it in the catalog image above left, though this is an illustration and not a photo so it's appearance isn't as accurate. The white interior looked especially nice with the orchid exterior, so let's add that to my imaginary car.

Here's a photo I found via Google image search:
This appears to have been taken in low sun, so the full effect of the color isn't quite coming through. Let's try one more:
Much better, and both of them have the white interior. Cool wheel covers, too.

(Image credits, from top: #1, 4, and 5 were cropped from images on Old Car Brochures; #2 and 3 are from Classic Car Catalogue; #6 is from chevellestuff.net; #7 is from chevelles.com.)

23 March 2014

This Week in Awesome (3/22/14)

Time to get back to it...

A time-lapse? Oh yes, there's a time-lapse. (Vimeo Staff Picks)

It's possible you didn't know there's a TV series about the fictional character Dr. Hannibal Lecter and the FBI consultant who, in that fictional universe, was first responsible for catching him. (This show examines their relationship before the events of those books/movies.) This article nicely explains why the show is so fascinating and compelling. (Grantland)

And for a bit of historical reading, here's a profile of a serial entrepreneur who had a significant impact on 20th-century consumer culture, but whose name you probably don't know. (The Truth About Cars)

Pop-culture lists like this one are endlessly arguable; that's what makes them fun. (Entertainment Weekly via TV Tattle)

And finally this week, a look at other aircraft that have gone missing over the last 60 years or so. (Bloomberg)

21 March 2014

Retro Video Unit (3/21/14)

How have I overlooked INXS all this time? Talk about defining an era: in the 1980s, they were MTV as much as any other band or artist. They had plenty of great songs and decent videos (and there's no reason why we can't revisit some others in the future), but my favorite song of theirs has always been, and always will be, "Don't Change" from their second US album, Shabooh Shoobah (1982).

And just for fun, here's Bruce Springsteen covering the song during a concert in Sydney, Australia (home country of INXS) just a few weeks ago:

20 March 2014

Some Thoughts on Getting Dressed

I had to get dressed for interviews on two consecutive days this week. There were a number of things that I was reminded of, or noticed for the first time:

1: In early 2002 I went to a sale at Brooks Brothers and bought a pair of black Italian-made dress shoes that look kind of like these. At the time I was working at Trader Joe's and not earning a lot, but I needed them, and this was well before Brooks's standard level of own-brand shoes rose to near $400 and the higher-level Peal shoes to north of $600. The shoes I was interested in were regularly priced around $160, and on sale were right around $110 or perhaps slightly less. Those shoes have turned out to be an incredibly solid investment: they have held up extremely well (though I haven't worn them a lot) and are probably the most comfortable dress shoes I've ever worn.

2: Unlike the shoes, I do not have a good black dress belt. I have a belt that lands in a hole that's too loose or the next hole that's too tight. I'm not sure how this happened; I have a number of belts, and I think maybe I used to have one that was better but no longer fit. I need to do something about this.

3: While getting dressed, I briefly drew a blank on how to tie my tie. After a couple of minutes of fumbling and trying to wind the fabric around in different ways, it came back to me.

4: Corollary to #3: my one tie bar has gone missing. As far as I can recall, the last time I wore it was to an event we went to in October. I've checked the pockets of my suit jackets and looked in all the other places it might have been.

5: Waiting in the reception area while people hurry about is always awkward. But as I waited, I noticed something: many workplaces have gone to a more casual dress code, and as I watched these people going back and forth, I realized that 80% of them looked rather schlubby. Women and men alike appeared to have given very little thought to their appearance when getting ready to leave the house. That's a shame. (During my interview it was expressed to me this way: "Jeans are okay; ripped jeans are not." If that's all the guidance the employees were given, it's no wonder they looked the way they did.)

6: I enjoy dressing up, but I'm still not sure how I would feel about it if I had to do it daily.

19 March 2014

On Patrol

I was just out walking the dog, and when a car turned into the block from behind us I noticed light moving at an unusual angle. When the car passed us I saw it was a police cruiser that was passing its driver's-side spotlight across the house fronts, and presumably also using it to look into the narrow spaces between the houses (in this neighborhood, houses are generally about ten feet apart). I haven't seen cops doing this before. But what about the other side of the street?

17 March 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #23

Sometimes I can walk past a car many times without it really registering in my mind. This tends to happen more with cars that were considered ordinary transportation when new and that haven't yet reached vintage status. There are plenty of older cars still in daily use, particularly in urban environments like where I live, and over the past several months I've been more attuned to spotting them.
This workhorse is a fourth-generation Honda Accord, either a 1992 or '93. It has lived on this block for several years and I'm pretty certain it's the oldest Accord in my immediate neighborhood. This design arrived for the 1990 model year and, typical for Honda styling of the period, was given a very subtle refresh for '92. (The '90-'91 tail light units were wider, reaching the license plate indentation and wrapping into it, plus the light positions were inverted, with the turn signals and backup lights on top. There were also slight differences in the lights and areas under the front bumpers.)

This is probably my favorite of all Accord designs (though I also have a soft spot for the second-gen four-door sedan). It's less fussy than the car it replaced, and I prefer the simplicity of its lines, the upright greenhouse with generous glass area, and its overall squarishness—everything just looks and feels harmonious and correct.
The first Accord model sold in the US was a two-door hatchback, but by the time the fourth generation arrived, the hatchback had been replaced by a coupe. (The third generation offered both body styles and the coupe proved much more popular, reflecting changes in the American car market.) This generation also added a wagon; the wagons and coupes from these years are much more rarely seen today, though I'm still hoping to spot one or both eventually.

I've noticed a couple of other Accords of this generation on this same block. I don't know if those were owned by the same person or happened to belong to others, but neither is around currently. It's possible they were being used as parts donors to keep this one going.

On the day I took the rear-end shot a small amount of snow had fallen, and the front of the car still had snow on its hood and windshield so it wasn't worth trying to get a front-end shot. When I went back later to take the side shot, the front was blocked by the pickup.

Programming Notes

If anyone is wondering, I took the weekend off from TWiA. Look for it again next weekend. Also, posts may be a bit irregular this week, as I have some some other things going on that will require a chunk of my attention.

14 March 2014

Overheard: Groovy Okay Edition

I was waiting for the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing, where the northbound and southbound platforms have separate entrances, and it can be confusing to know which direction is correct if you're unfamiliar with the area. A woman passed through the fare gate, and I happened to be standing just beyond it, so she asked me "Is this for... OK Groove?"

She had an accent, and after a moment I realized that she was referring to Oak Grove and assured her that she was in the correct place.

13 March 2014

The Opposite of Anti-Hip?

Did anyone catch the article from a couple of weeks ago about this anti-fashion thing called "normcore"? (It's totally okay if you haven't heard about it, as it doesn't seem to have made it beyond the fashion and style blogs, yet. That means that six months from now, when it's already on the verge of being played out, the New York Times Style section will do a big, splashy piece on it.)

Essentially, normcore (the word originated with a group of artists who operate a "trend forecasting group") means embracing ordinariness but in a supposedly cool way, which in fashion terms means instead of dressing in of-the-moment, high-fashion stuff, choosing to dress in plain, blah, ordinary clothing. Think relaxed-fit jeans in lighter washes, pullover fleeces, those certain style of New Balance sneakers favored by tech guys.

The claim being made by people in fashion is that this normcore thing is not being done ironically, but I'm calling bullshit on that. Hipsters love it, obviously, because being a hipster is all about co-opting something that isn't trendy and thereby making it secretly trendy to a select group. But when being hip and insider means you're now wearing dad jeans and mock turtlenecks, isn't that the point where the serpent has begun to eat its own tail?

And now Esquire's style blog is trying to tell me that dressing this way is okay, but you have to get the details right? That's painfully contradictory. People who are anti-fashion fundamentally don't care about the details, which is why they dress the way they do. People who are worrying about whether the brand of fleece they are wearing is uncool enough are simply trying too hard, and that is no different from a guy who's wearing double-monk strap shoes with one buckle on each shoe left undone on purpose, or ties his tie with the back blade longer than the front.

I'm not going to criticize anyone who wants to dress this way (though I certainly wouldn't), but don't try to tell us it isn't trendy. The fact that it has cachet with, and is being talked about by, stylists and fashion insiders is the clearest indication that this is a trend, just like jeggings or multiple bracelets or too-short sport jackets.

12 March 2014


When our dog blinks, her eyes make a noise. It's the strangest damn thing. We can hear it if the room is quiet enough.

11 March 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #3

I admit that I've always been less enthusiastic about Ford products compared to those from Chrysler Corporation and General Motors. Sure, everyone loves a classic Mustang, but in car collecting and shows they are so common that they are kind of ordinary.

However, there are certain Ford Motor Company products that will always have strong appeal for me. One of these is the 1960s Lincoln Continental, the ones with the forward-opening rear doors known as suicide doors. As we've discussed before, American car styling went through a difficult period at the end of the 1950s, and Lincoln's cars were particularly ponderous and unattractive. (There are those who appreciate these cars more today, as this recent New York Times article attests.) Lincolns were selling poorly compared to Cadillacs, so this 1961 redesign was something of a last hope for the company.

The design originated as an alternate proposal for the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, which partly explains why the roof and glass area on the initial models looks more coupe-like, and perhaps a bit too small relative to the rest of the car's body. In fact the '61 Continental shared part of its inner body structure with the Thunderbird for financial reasons (a much more common practice now, but still common enough half a century ago). This kinship is quite evident when comparing the front end designs of the '61 Thunderbird and Continental:
(The center grille bar that sweeps down and under the headlight units on these two cars is obviously very similar.)

The Continental was made in four-door closed-roof and convertible body styles, with the same basic design lasting from 1961-69 with minor styling tweaks and revisions along the way (though some of these were subtle enough that they might not be noticeable to someone who doesn't pay much attention to car styling). Lincoln introduced a two-door hardtop coupe version in 1966 that proved to be more popular than they had expected; the convertible was dropped after 1967.

If I were to choose one car from the whole model run for my fantasy garage it would have to be one of the four-door convertibles, because the design is unique among post-World War II vehicles. (Entourage kind of ruined the coolness factor of this car, but we're going to ignore that.) And if I have to narrow it down to a specific model year, it would be the 1964.
For that year the car was redesigned and gained a few inches in wheelbase and length, along with a revision to the roof design that improved the balance of its overall appearance. (I prefer the dashboard design of the 1961-63 models, but the cleaner and more refined exterior front and rear designs of the '64 tilt my opinion in its favor.) Second place would probably go to the '66, which again had slightly revised sheetmetal and was one of the first American cars to incorporate tail lights into the rear bumper.
A couple of other notes on these cars: the leather interior was available in a choice of ten colors. Ten! (You all know how I feel about current cars' lack of interior color choices.) Cloth seats were also available, in six colors.
Also, for 1967 Ford applied the suicide-door design to a four-door version of the Thunderbird, in an attempt to move the 'bird upmarket and afford it a measure of distinction. Not everyone likes these cars, but I've always thought they were quite cool; they are probably my favorite Thunderbirds. (And check out the groovy dress on that model.)

For an excellent overview of the 1961-69 Lincolns, see this article on Curbside Classic.

(Image credits for this post, from top: #1,3, and 4 are cropped from full-page brochure images on the Old Car Brochures website; #5 is a full brochure page image from OCB; #2 is from Wikipedia.)

10 March 2014

Losing a Customer, Probably

This afternoon I ventured to my local Bed Bath & Beyond intending to buy a coffee grinder. It turned out that the model I intended to get was out of stock; I had checked the stock online over the weekend, but not today before leaving the house.

But I probably wouldn't have ended up buying it even if it was in stock, because the store price was $10 higher than the online price. This is the sort of thing that irritates the crap out of me. You can order an item online to pick up in-store, and I have done this in the past with certain items, but in this instance it didn't seem necessary. And if you do that, it's possible you wouldn't see the item on the shelf in the store, so you might not know there was a price difference.

And beyond that, we've had nearly two decades of e-commerce; isn't it time to expect that online prices and in-store prices will match? There's really no excuse at this point for this not to be so. If a website can tell me what stores have an item in stock, and lets me order it through the site to pick up at the store, then it probably means a common supply chain; what, then, is the justification for a different price on the item in the store? Taking advantage of people who don't use the internet, or are just gullible? Hoping that because people are already in the store they'll just give in and buy the item they came in for anyway? Neither of these strikes me as a strategy that will earn long-term customer loyalty.

Normally I would have left the store's name out of such a story, but I was so dismayed by the occurrence that I don't care. I know marketing people have google alerts for when stuff like this gets published online, so if someone from BB&B reads this and wants to talk with me about it, swell. (Maybe they can also explain why the 20% off coupons have disappeared.)

I walked over to the adjacent Target and bought ground coffee to use while I decide which online store I'm going to order a grinder from. And as I've dug a little deeper into looking at grinders online, I've also started to have second thoughts about the particular model I was planning to buy. I'm hoping to speak to the proprietor of our local coffee shop to ask her opinion about grinders, so it may take a few days longer to make a decision and order the thing.

Olfactory Overshare

What's the female equivalent of Axe body spray? Because I'm being asphyxiated by it on the bus right now...

09 March 2014

This Week in Awesome (3/8/14)

It sure was nice out today. And even if we end up getting the storm on Wednesday that is still being talked about in vague terms, it will have been three weeks since the last storm of any significance passed through our area. We're almost there...

This week's longish and interesting read is about some techy guys who wondered if it was possible to capture the sounds of an internet hacking attack. It will make more sense if you go and read it. (The Awl)

I had heard of this condition, but only slightly. I think it would be very unfortunate to experience. (The Verge)

Speaking of music, this is quite an intriguing idea, and I am not at all surprised that James Murphy is the guy behind it. (The Wall Street Journal)

And finally this week, speaking of New York, here's a nice, in-depth, interactive look at the new 1 World Trade Center building. (Time)

08 March 2014

Retro Video Unit (3/7/14)

Apologies for forgetting about this yesterday... I don't always choose the clips ahead of time, and if I haven't found one it means I'm more likely to forget to do it on the correct day.

Anyway, I was thinking about the 1980s and that led me to R.E.M., one of the biggest bands of that decade. I had the good fortune to see them very early on, in the spring of '83 at BU's old Walter Brown Arena (since replaced by the Agganis Arena), where they were the opening act for The English Beat. Murmur had just come out, and seeing them was a genuine revelation.

Within a couple of years they were one of MTV's mid-decade darlings, producing multiple videos for the songs on the album Fables of the Reconstruction. "Can't Get There From Here" was a bit more lighthearted than some of the other songs on that album, and the video is suitably goofy.

And of course it has old cars in it, which is another reason I like it. The purplish car is a 1960 Ford Galaxie, the top of the line four-door sedan available that year. The one seen more briefly, with Bill Berry climbing out of the trunk, is a 1966 Ford Thunderbird.

06 March 2014

Coffee Prep

I forgot that when you get a new coffee maker, you're supposed to run vinegar through it first, and then a few cycles of just water to rinse and purge the vinegar residue, so I had to walk to the market and get a bottle. At least it's cheap.

Also, we regularly get those 20% coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond in our mail, but of course because I want to go there and buy the coffee grinder, there are none to be found. You can go to their website and get a printable one, after first giving them all your personal information.

04 March 2014

Ground to a Halt

My beloved Krups grind-and-brew coffee maker stopped working over the weekend. Everything was fine on Saturday; on Sunday it ground the coffee beans as usual, but when I turned on the brewing cycle nothing happened. I'm guessing this means that the heating element has given out. I wish I had the ability to repair it, but that's not the case. It lasted six years, which I suppose isn't so bad for a kitchen appliance. I've had other coffee makers that worked for much shorter periods of time. The Mrs. has a french press she used to use at work, so at least we were still able to make coffee.

I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to get to replace the Krups. I briefly considered replacing the machine with one just like it, but to be honest it had become something of a pain to use. The coffee it made was delicious, but the ground coffee never got fully expelled from the grinder, so each day I had to pick up the unit and bang on the side to get all the coffee into the filter (otherwise it wouldn't be strong enough), then add the water. It also made a mess in general, spraying ground coffee dust on the counter when the lid snapped shut.

At first I thought I might take the minimalist approach and get a Chemex pot, which is basically a manual "pour-over" version of a drip coffee maker. It's a beautiful object to look at, plus it's relatively inexpensive (around $40), and there's also a version with a handle. You still have to boil water, but otherwise it's much less fussy than a french press. But then I noticed that the Chemex pots require a special type of filter that costs $8 for a package of 100, which is four times what I pay for cone filters at Trader Joe's or Market Basket. It might seem silly to fret about that, but cost of use has to be considered. Sorry, Chemex.

A Chemex would also require getting a separate coffee grinder, which I'm fine with, since I'm far too entrenched in the pleasure of drinking coffee made from freshly ground beans to revert to buying pre-ground coffee, but those little cylindrical blade grinders that cost $20 are terrible; a burr grinder, which uses plates to crush the beans, is the way to go, and they are large enough that you can grind a larger quantity of coffee beans at one time if you wish. I can grind beans two or three times a week and store the ground coffee in an airtight container.

So I decided I would find a decent drip coffee maker and a decent burr grinder. I still want a coffee maker that uses cone filters, which is harder to find than the kind that uses basket-shaped filters. I settled on a Melitta unit with a thermal carafe, made by Hamilton Beach, because it had good user reviews and because it was available through my credit card reward program by using points I had already accrued. (The Krups was also obtained with gift cards which I exchanged reward points for.) It's already on the way and will arrive Wednesday.

I looked at a lot of grinders, and I noticed that a lot of the negative reviews were from people who said they couldn't get a grind fine enough for espresso. I sympathize with them, but I'm only interested in regular coffee that's going in a drip machine, so I actually want a coarser grind. If you filter out those reviews, the picture can be quite different. I asked a friend what grinder he uses, and it turns out he has the one I was thinking of getting. It's by Cuisinart and is nothing fancy (it's not too difficult to spend more than $100 on a grinder alone), but it will do the job and I can purchase one in a store nearby.

03 March 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #22

There are still a number of street-parked finds from my neighborhood that I have not yet posted, so let's have a look at a mid-1980s large American car.
This is another Oldsmobile, a 1989 Eighty Eight (formerly Delta 88) Royale. But it's a Royale without cheese, because it's not the nicer Brougham model. This car is the direct successor to random sighting #16 (the first year for this design was '86), and it's nice to be able to see the evolution of a car from one generation to the next.
I'm able to peg the year on this one because of small things like the badges on the rear fenders and the tail lights, which had amber turn signal lenses in their top halves in the preceding years, and for '90 the car got a different front-end treatment.
It looks about the way you would expect a 25-year-old car that lives in New England and parks on the street to look. Most of these were owned by older folks, who were probably inclined to coddle them, so either this one was passed down to a family member, purchased by someone outside the family, or simply owned by someone who wasn't interested in cosseting a vehicle. But it has still managed to hang onto 75% of its wheel covers and pass an inspection.

These are actually nice cars, pleasant to drive with a nice ride and one of General Motors's better engines of this era, all of which may explain why this one is still on the road in beater service.

02 March 2014

This Week in Awesome (3/1/14)

I'm dealing with a coffee maker crisis here, so bear with me...

This will disturb some and offend others. I mainly think it's just interesting to look at. (The Hairpin)

This email exchange is worth the couple of minutes it will take to read, especially if you work in any sort of field where you may get asked to make a contribution on spec. (Tickld via Dappered)

I've seen this before, and I may have even posted about it before, but I did not realize it was a project still in progress. If you live in southern California you can see this at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Vimeo Staff Picks)

And finally this week, I don't know if any of you visit the website The Verge, but they publish a lot of interesting stuff that goes beyond just tech news. This week there was a story about a mysterious old book that people have been attempting to decipher for 100 years or so, and also a very worthy piece about net neutrality. If you don't understand net neutrality or don't think it's important, you need to read it. If you do get it and know it's important, you also need to read it.

28 February 2014

It's 2014, People

Sometimes I wonder what year other people are living in. Today I boarded a bus and the person in front of me paid the $2 fare with coins, which had to be dropped into the slot one by one while the rest of us waited alongside the bus in sub-20-degree weather. The driver pointed out that if she used a Charlie Card (the MBTA's refillable fare card, for those of you who aren't from the area) she would save 50 cents on each ride. The woman said, "I know," bent down to pick up the two large bags she'd had to set down to pay her fare (keeping us waiting longer), and moved back into the bus.

I get that for some people it would be a hardship to pay $48 for a monthly bus pass (or $70 for the subway and bus pass), or perhaps she doesn't ride buses frequently enough to make a monthly pass worth the cost. But that 50 cents per ride is 25% of what she had to put in the fare box; if she put $12 on a Charlie Card, she could take eight bus rides instead of six paying per ride, plus she wouldn't have to have all that change for each ride.

A bit later I was on my way home and I had to make a quick stop at the market. I got in line behind an older gentleman who was in the process of putting his purchases on the counter from his cart. He then took a blank check out of his wallet and started filling it out.

I frequently get stuck behind slow people when I'm only buying one or two items, but the check was the thing that caught my attention. I barely write checks for anything other than rent these days, and I haven't used one to pay for groceries in probably close to 20 years.

I get that not everyone is comfortable carrying large amounts of cash, but most people have at least one credit or debit card, and checking out is so much faster that way. Maybe the check-writing dude doesn't value the time of the people behind him in line, but he must value his own time. Or maybe I just think too much about these things...

27 February 2014

What a Gas

I'm stuck at home for most of the day. The gas company needs to replace our meter. They have called about it several times over the past month, and initially I referred them to our landlord, but the calls continued and I figured it was easier to schedule it myself and get it over with.

And even though they claim they need to do this, they are inconveniencing me by giving a six-hour window for the appointment. "Oh, the tech will call you 15 to 20 minutes before he arrives." Well, how about that? That makes all the difference. And I need to stay by the phone because if for some reason I miss the call, the tech won't come.

Given how cold it is I might not have wanted to go out anyway, but it still seems somewhat ridiculous that they can't narrow down the window to three or four hours. At least it will only take 20 to 30 minutes for the tech to complete the task after he finally arrives.

25 February 2014

The Downslope

We had a pleasant weekend that hinted at spring, and I was able to wear fewer layers and a lighter coat while out walking around, but now it's quite cold again, so it's back to the heavy sweaters and flannel-lined jeans.

Inside the house it's not an issue, but walking the dog, especially first thing in the morning, requires the heavy-duty stuff. Even if I only use these pants and other deep-winter pieces of clothing a couple of months out of the year at most, I'm awfully glad I have them.

Winter has to release its grip on us eventually. I've noticed that the sun is setting later, and it feels stronger even when it's not at its peak height. I don't generally look forward to spring the way most people do, but this year I'm ready for it.

24 February 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #2

From 1961-66, American car styling hit peak after exhilarating peak. The excesses of the late 1950s were largely swept away and replaced by clean designs with less reliance on chrome decoration and more effort placed on pleasant, refined looks.

General Motors was on top, as it had been for some time. The company's hierarchy of five car brands shared certain platforms and styling components like roof panels, but otherwise the offerings presented distinctive and attractive looks to the car-buying public. Buicks and Oldsmobiles, being higher-priced, had cars based on two bodies, the larger of which was shared with Cadillac.

As much as I like the Cadillac design of 1961-62, I slightly prefer the Oldsmobile 98, specifically the four-door hardtop with a third side window behind the rear door, called the "Holiday Sedan" in Olds marketing lingo. Maybe an Olds was a couple of steps down from a Cadillac, but the 98 was less fussy-looking. (While it's also true that my grandfather had a '62 Olds, it was a less glamorous Dynamic 88 four-door sedan.)

I don't have any scale die-cast version to show you for this one, but there are illustrations around online from the brochure:
Google's image search wasn't quite as helpful as I'd hoped, but I did find this one:
I was hoping for a photo with the side windows open, but this at least gives a sense of the roofline. Besides great color choices inside and out, one other thing I miss about cars is lots of glass area. In newer cars, designers have raised the side window sills relative to seat height to enhance the sense of safety, but at the cost of visibility. I suppose in a few more years almost all cars will come with backup cameras standard, but I think some people would still prefer being able to see out of the car all around.

23 February 2014

This Week in Awesome (2/22/14)

I have no excuse: I was home all day yesterday, doing not much of anything...

I love being able to look at photos like these for a slice of urban life in the not-too-distant past. Think how much easier it is to do this today with our smartphones. (Time via Laughing Squid)

You may remember my earlier references to the Comedy Central show Key & Peele. Their action movie-loving valet attendant characters (I have no idea if they have names) have a surprise encounter with one of their favorite stars in a clever bit of cross-promotion for his upcoming movie. (Note to marketers: THIS is how you do this type of promotion in a way that does not pander to or insult your audience.)

Those of you with voyeuristic tendencies may be interested in this. (Boy Genius Report)

Rapping Brian Williams is back, with an assist this time. (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)

And finally this week, prepare to get lost in one of the internet's rabbit holes. (The Hairpin)

21 February 2014

Retro Video Unit (2/21/14)

I was in the mood for a deep flashback, all the way back to the disco era. I happened to read an article about Queen that linked to a video of Chic's 1979 hit "Good Times" but it had some awful modern footage spliced into the middle. Fortunately YouTube also had the original version, which came from some sort of weird Italian television aanlogue to American Bandstand (I think).

And just for fun, let's also look at Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" from the same year, which is, shall we say, heavily indebted to the Chic song as far as the music is concerned:


When I'm wandering around trying to find old cars to take pictures of, I sometimes find other things worthy of a photo. I've always been interested in buildings and architecture, and there are plenty of interesting buildings in this area.
This is the Flour and Grain Exchange Building at the corner of India and Milk Streets downtown. I took this picture last summer when the Mrs. and I were trying to find a food truck or two from which to get lunch (since it was a Saturday there were only a couple stationed on the nearby Greenway).

The building is triangular with rounded corners, and I have been somewhat fascinated by it for decades, though I have never ventured inside. The only thing I miss about the old elevated Central Artery is that when heading southbound, it was easier to get a decent look at this building as you passed by just a few feet from it. (I remember there used to be a huge red ribbon around the whole thing at Christmas.)
About a month ago I was in Medford Square in the morning, heading to an appointment. As I was waiting for the bus I looked across the street and noticed that the building on the corner reminded me a little of the Flour and Grain Exchange Building, though the one in Medford is certainly quite different.

20 February 2014

Winter Non-Vacation

I try not to do a lot of complaining about winter. Generally I don't mind it so much, though I started to feel less that way after we got a dog that has to be walked several times a day regardless of what sort of nastiness may be happening outside.

But this year's winter, and this month in particular, has been relentless, with storms hitting us over and over, sometimes just a day or two apart. So it was heartening today to see bright sunshine and blue skies (for part of the day, at least) and feel the temperature rising well above 40 for the first time in several weeks.

This is a nice point in the winter to get away to somewhere warm, if possible. When my parents used to spend the winter in Fort Lauderdale, this is the time when I would go and visit them. In fact, the Mrs. left today to go visit her sister in California, leaving me here to take care of the dog (or vice versa, maybe?).

Of course I would have liked to go along, but in practical terms it didn't make sense this time. And the weather is supposed to remain decent here for a few more days, so I'll be fine. I have food and coffee and beer and whatever else I might need, movies on the TiVo that the Mrs. isn't interested in watching, laundry and house-cleaning, and plenty else to keep me occupied.

18 February 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #21

This car isn't old, but I took pictures of it anyway, mainly because it has a vinyl roof covering and I didn't think those were available anymore. It turns out they aren't—not from the factory, at least.

It happened that I had just read a post on Curbside Classic about new Cadillacs with dealer-installed vinyl tops when I saw this car driving through my neighborhood. It's not a Cadillac but a Mercury, though I'll admit that I had to look up exactly which model, because some of the cars they made in their final few years on the market sold in such small numbers that they I simply was not aware they had existed.
It turns out this was called a Montego, which is a nameplate from the 1960s and '70s that Mercury went and dug out of its corporate attic, but applied to this particular car it's basically meaningless. It's essentially the same car as a Ford Five Hundred, which was the early-2000's replacement for the Taurus.
The roof treatment appears to be part of a "Park Lane" decor package (another model name from Mercury's past) that also includes the shiny window trim, and more than anything else, I couldn't help but wonder why someone would still want a car equipped this way. It's such a dated look, especially with its aerodynamically rounded roofline (which looks borrowed from something like an Audi A6) that is totally unsuited to a faux-convertible treatment.
Oddly enough, I had to stalk this car for a while, which accounts for the extremely mediocre nature of these pictures. When I took the distant shot above, from across the street and behind the car, I didn't realize its owner was getting into it and was looking in my direction (probably trying to figure out why someone might want to take a picture of him or his car). Had I been able to see him clearly from that far away, I wouldn't have taken the shot. Subsequently I walked down the block and attempted to get a side shot of the car as it passed me, but tried to make it look like I was taking a picture of something else. I was able to get the front shot of it in its driveway a few days later, but you don't really get the full effect of the tacky add-on vinyl roof from that angle.

Looking at that last shot, it kind of reminds me of some of those old surveillance photos of Whitey Bulger. Too bad this isn't a genuine Mercury Montego from back in the '70s; that would have been even more evocative of those pictures.

17 February 2014

Long Weekend in Awesome (2/15/14)

Ah well, good intentions and all that. Yesterday was fairly well consumed by snow-shoveling (and later, burrito-getting), but things were very low-key on Saturday and I have no idea why I didn't post this then...

Olympics-adjacent: Conan's Andy Richter finds out what curling is all about. (Tastefully Offensive)

I've become kind of anti-Gawker in the same way I'm kind of anti-Amazon, so at first I was reluctant to post this, but the coolness factor won out: New York's subway is implementing giant touch-screen map guides. Can't wait to get back to NYC to try 'em out. (I'd also love to see the MBTA get something like this.) (Boy Genius Report)

I have always disliked this word, and here's why: because people use it incorrectly. (The Chronicle of Higher Education via The Awl)

And finally this week, the passing of comedic genius Sid Caesar brought plenty of tributes, including one from Billy Crystal. Caesar was a giant in his importance to the medium of TV and to the realm of comedy; this compilation of classic sketches shows why. (The Daily Beast via TV Tattle)

15 February 2014

Still Here, Still Shoveling

I was on my way to bed when I realized that I hadn't posted anything since Wednesday. I spent most of Thursday dealing with the latest snowstorm, which left about six inches of heavy, wet snow in our immediate area. All the forecasts said the snow would turn to rain, so I started shoveling around noon in anticipation of the transition, expecting it to be raining by the time I'd finished.

I was about half done when I noticed that it had started snowing much harder, and that the flakes were much larger than usual. By the time I'd finished, everything I'd shoveled was already covered over again. In fact, I ended up going back out a couple of hours later and doing everything a second time. After that I had to go out two more times to clear the bottom of the driveway after plow passes (no sign of the helpful neighbor this time). By that point it was indeed raining, not that it mattered or did me any good.

Of course everything froze overnight, so I went out today to have a look and see if there was any ice I could clear away. I noticed that our next-door neighbors had cleared their front sidewalk of ice right up to the property line, so I figured I should do the same. At first I had to break off chunks with the edge of the shovel, but eventually I was able to slide the shovel under the ice and bring it up in pieces and slabs.

When I'd worked my way all the way across to our neighbors on the other side, I got to work on our driveway, which in some places had an inch of ice going back to last Saturday, when we got a small amount of snow that I had cleared only half-heartedly. By the time I'd finished with everything, including the front steps, more than three hours had passed. (I had paused in the middle to walk the dog.)

So that's where I've been most of the past two days. And lucky us, another storm is coming through Saturday evening and night. Earlier in the week the forecasts were saying this one was going to miss us, or maybe just leave a dusting; now the predictions for this area are ranging from four to eight inches, so I know what I'll be doing Sunday.

12 February 2014

Overheard: Reality of Winter Edition

On the platform at Wellington station last Friday, I happened to hear a young man say to his female friend, "I picked the wrong day to wear a sleeveless shirt." (He was otherwise bundled up in winter gear, but those other layers definitely make a difference.)

11 February 2014


A few weeks back I mentioned our dog and the joint supplements we give her. While they do seem to help, she is 12-1/2 and a few months ago we noticed that she seemed to be having a bit more difficulty getting up the stairs when we came back from walks.

Winter only makes this more difficult, so we decided to find someone who could build us a ramp for her. I looked through some handyman-for-hire postings on craigslist and found a guy who had 30 years' experience and was based in Arlington, which is nearby. I emailed him with a description of what we wanted done and a photo of the steps. He responded and we arranged a time for him to come by to look over the area in person and take measurements.

A few days later he submitted a thorough proposal, outlining the materials he would use, how he would construct the ramp, and his price. We thought it over for a day or so and decided to go ahead. He called during my minor phone crisis a couple of weeks ago to ask if it would be okay for him to come and do the job that Saturday, so I had to wait until I got my phone working the next day to return his call.

That Saturday turned out to be one of the nice days between snowstorms. The contractor arrived right on time and set up his sawhorses and gear. I showed him where he could plug in a power cord in the basement and he set right to work. It took him less than two hours to complete the project, which I found impressive. The only thing we needed to do was add some sort of traction-providing material to the surface.

We went to the hardware store the next day, thinking we could find something with an adhesive backing, but the closest we came was some sort of tape that was only 2" wide, so we settled for rubber doormats which the Mrs. attached to the ramp with a staple gun. We then brought the dog outside and did a few practice runs with treats, to get her used to using the ramp.
Over the next couple of days we led her to the ramp after her walks. At first I picked her up and set her on the bottom of it, and she did go up the ramp fairly readily, though she seemed a bit unsure of it and sort of hopped up it at first. But she adapted to it very quickly and within another day or so she was going up the ramp without hesitation when led to the bottom. We've yet to get her to go down it again, but going down the stairs isn't as difficult for her as going up them. If she decides she needs it for going down, I think she'll know what to do.

10 February 2014

Car Stuff: The Fantasy Garage

As I work on replenishing my supply of photos of cars I encounter for Random Sightings, I also want to expand to other topics, so today I'm launching Fantasy Garage, where I daydream about the classic cars I'd buy if I won a big lottery jackpot.

I didn't necessarily want to rank my choices, so I thought about doing them alphabetically and then chronologically. I settled on the latter, and though I'm starting with a car from 1960, it's entirely possible that later on I may want to add one that's older.

I've alluded to my enthusiasm for 1960 Chryslers before, in this post about seeing a 1959 Chrysler 300E at the car show I attended last July and this one about a '61 Chrysler wagon on Curbside Classic. Those two cars end up as brackets for my favorite, the 1960 300F. The 300 "letter series" cars (link to wikipedia entry) were made from 1955-65; they were expensive cars with high-performance engines and luxurious appointments that never sold more than a few thousand units per year, but served as halo cars for the brand.

Initially available as a two-door hardtop coupe, a convertible was added for 1957 and continued through 1965, except there was no convertible offered for '63. Production for 1960 was just over 1200 cars total, and only 248 of those were convertibles. I have seen restored examples for sale for as much as $75,000, though I have no idea if any of them have sold for such prices. There is one 300F convertible currently for sale on the classic-car site Hemmings for $199,000!
I don't think I've ever seen a '60 300F in person, but I do have this die-cast 1/18 scale version. (I'd probably have a lot more of these if I had space to display them.)
 As with the real car, the model has swiveling front bucket seats and a full-length console. I also like the dashboard-mounted rear view mirror, which was found on most Chrysler Corporation products of this time period.
The side trim helps to break up the car's convex slab sides, though I think black isn't the best color for showing off this car's lines.