30 July 2008

Weird Stuff, The "I Don't Have a Problem" Edition

Just a quick one, for lack of any other inspiration at this hour. I'm not sure what sort of circumstance would warrant having one of these, but if you need to hide your booze in a fake cell phone, I submit that you have problems that stealth drinking ain't gonna cure.

Note the "testimonials" from the allegedly real people. Frankly, they all sound fake to me, but in different ways. Five stars from every single reviewer? Come on. Self-described cheapskates? If you don't want to pay for a couple of drinks, stay home.

28 July 2008

Family Plan

We added my mother to our cell phone "family plan" a couple of years ago because the prepaid phone she had at the time was all but dead, and it was an easy and relatively inexpensive way to assure that she had a phone in the event of an emergency. Also, the unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling included in our plan means we can call each other any time without depleting our monthly minute allotment. (It was only last month that I was able to convince her that it was no longer necessary for her to give me the $10 per month that her line costs.)

Her phone has been acting weird for a while; almost any time we have a conversation, the call drops at some point. There could be any number of possible explanations--low signal, low battery, interference--but it seems to happen pretty regularly when I talk to her, and not when I'm talking to anyone else. She's had the phone for a couple of years and is eligible to get a new one.

Yesterday we went to RI to visit my family, and since the weather was lousy, I thought we could go look at some phones, and maybe get her set up with a new one. We drove to the store and went in. Verizon Wireless has a simple phone that is kind of geared toward seniors--good-size screen, large font, dedicated emergency number keys, no extraneous features--and I thought this one might be a good choice for her.

I pointed out the phone to her and she immediately said, "It's ugly." It hadn't occurred to me that she would have any sort of opinion about its looks, so I said, "Okay..." She said, "It's black. I don't like black, I like silver, like mine." I didn't want to disappoint her by telling her that cell phone makers have largely moved away from silver, so I decided to just show her some of the features. Unfortunately, the phone was not a working model, but one of the dummy models the stores sometimes use, so I couldn't really show her much of anything.

She asked me, "Is it going to work the same way as this one?" I started to explain what things would be the same, but then I realized it would quickly get complicated, and instead feebly offered, "Most things will work the same way, but you can't expect everything to be the same." Finally, she wanted to know how much it cost. The salesman looked up our account and said, "$40." So of course the next question was, "Don't they have a free one? This one was free when you put me on your account."

The salesman, displaying what I thought was remarkable patience, looked at her phone and said, "To be honest with you, the phone we have that you could get for free isn't as good as the one you have now, so you should probably just keep it." Okay, but that doesn't solve our original problem. After looking around for another couple of minutes, we left. I figure that the time it would take her to learn how to operate a new phone is probably not worth it, as long as she has a phone that mostly, sort of works.

26 July 2008

Going Mad

In my Emmy-nominations extravaganza last week, I promised I would talk about the return of Mad Men. The much-praised drama begins its second season tomorrow night on AMC. So, what's the big deal?

For one thing, it's gorgeous to look at. It's set in the early 1960s, and every detail is lovingly fussed over: the office furniture, the home decor, the clothes, and the cigarettes all emit period authenticity. For a design fetishist like myself, it's a blast to watch. But the show is more than just looks. Beneath the pretty, polished surfaces, there are depths. Each character is richly drawn and complex, and after the first season's thirteen episodes, I felt like we'd just begun to understand them.

Setting a story four or five decades in the past allows its creators to use the vantage point of the present to examine how people behaved back then, and how things have changed. Office politics, women's empowerment, domestic life, gender roles, sexism, racism, classism, anti-Semitism, birth control--all of these have been addressed, without preaching or pandering. And while our 2008 selves may not approve of the behavior being portrayed, it's important to remember that it was a time of conformity. People did not want to be seen as different, so they probably said and did things that they didn't necessarily agree with or believe.

The show is much more than just a soap opera about the lives and loves of office workers. One of the things I appreciate most about the show is that it treats its characters' problems and situations seriously, and in an adult way. It's a show about grown-ups, for grown-ups. It's smart and sophisticated, sexy and subtle. It captures these people at a moment in their lives when the post-World War II status quo was about to give way to enormous change. They don't know that change is coming, but we do. If we're lucky, the show will be around long enough for us to see how its characters experience the upheavals on the way.

24 July 2008

Now Showing

Last night we went to see The Dark Knight. We had tried to go on Sunday afternoon, but the theater was so crowded, we couldn't even find a parking space. I'd never seen the parking lot more than half full, except maybe back when Star Wars (Episode IV) got rereleased back in, um, '97 was it?

I'm not big on buying movie tickets ahead of time, mostly because I resent paying the surcharge, though I will admit that it's convenient, and it makes sense to do it for "event" movies with high demand. Also, I get discounted passed through my job, which you have to redeem at the box office. Anyway, I figured that going on a weeknight would be slightly less crazed, but still busy, so we left the house at 6:40 for a 7:35 show time. We got to the theater right around 7, and waited in line between five and ten minutes to buy our tickets.

The Showcase chain, in an attempt to swank things up a little (and to get people to spend more money), has tagged a few of the screens in the Revere multiplex with the "Director's Hall" designation. Basically, this means you get to choose specific seats, which is done via a little touch-screen display at the ticket counter. When you then go into the theater, there are actual ushers who show you to your seats, and they will also take your concession order, go and get the goodies for you, and bring them to you at your seat before the movie begins. Oh, and the seats are a bit nicer than the ones in the "regular" theaters: they're leather, and have thicker padding.

For these privileges, you pay $2 above the standard ticket price, which I believe is now $10.25. However, I get those aforementioned discount passes for $7.75 each, so even adding on the extra to see a movie in Director's Hall, it's still costing me a bit less than standard price. This was our first time trying out this frillery, but we figured we should give it a try. The movie was showing on at least three other screens in the theater, so it wasn't like we had to do it. The start time just happened to be convenient for us. What I'd really like is to be able to get a beer or a cocktail to go with my movie, like you can at the Somerville Theatre, and while we're at it, why not make the booze-serving screen an over-21 theater?

Oh, the movie? Yeah, it rocked. A bit long at two and a half hours, but very little of it felt extraneous. I missed some bits of dialogue because the music was very loud in places, but this is certainly not the only movie or TV show to be guilty of that. The visuals were often stunning, and Heath Ledger was nothing short of amazing, making his death that much more of a shame.

23 July 2008

Testy Time

Coming into work this morning on the T, I happened to be standing next to two women whom I determined to be coworkers. They were having a conversation about an event taking place at their workplace that day, and seemed a bit concerned that they were going to be late. This led to one of them saying, "What time is it?" She started to rummage in her purse, presumably looking for her phone to check the time (hmm, where have I heard that before?).

I glanced at my wrist and said, "Five minutes to nine." Instead of a smile, a thank you, or a nod of appreciation, I got a nasty, withering look from the woman. She then extracted her phone from her purse, looked at it, and said to her coworker, "8:54."

Okay, then. I was only trying to be helpful, but I guess it wasn't worth it. I can imagine what she said after they were away from me. "Can you believe that guy, telling me what time it was? I don't need him giving me the time."

22 July 2008

Ice Cream Hassles: The Uncanny Aftermath

When I got home from work, I told the Mrs. my unhappy ice cream tale. When we'd finished eating dinner, she said, "I want some ice cream." I said, "You want ice cream? I was robbed of my ice cream today!" So we hopped in the car and headed down to the Stop & Shop near Wellington Circle.

When we got to the ice cream aisle, I noticed an older couple, woman maybe late fifties, man somewhat older. Actually it would have been hard not to notice them. Each one had a cart strategically parked on either side of the case that held the Ben & Jerry's, and into these carts they were placing pints of the ice cream, in neat rows. They were taking turns diving into the freezer case and coming out with armloads of three or four pints each. (The B&J is on sale this week, and I guess they really, really like it.)

I stood there waiting for them to get out of the way so I could grab a pint, but they didn't seem to notice me, or maybe they did notice me but didn't care. But after a couple of minutes they took a breather, or consulted a list, or something, so I saw my opening and seized my chance. I slipped in, worried that they'd already taken all the good flavors, as there were several gaps on the shelves, but I was able to grab a pint of Oatmeal Cookie Chunk and escape unharmed.

As I walked away I took a quick look at their carts, and because they had arranged their frozen treasure so precisely, I was able to total it up on the fly: each cart had at least two dozen pints of Ben & Jerry's in it. Let's call it fifty pints of ice cream between them, and they weren't done yet. I wonder if they're in charge of an ice cream party somewhere...

Ice Cream Hassles

Today there was an ice cream party at work for the whole campus, outside on the lawn. One of my coworkers sent an email suggesting that those who wanted to go should meet in our lobby and we could all walk over together. When we arrived, there were probably about a hundred people already in line in front of us, so we got in line and waited. Someone came along and asked if we were all from the same office or group, and snapped a few photos of us.

The line moved along, and when there were about ten people left ahead of us, someone came up and said, "I'm sorry, but we've run out of ice cream." I looked behind us, and there were (I'm estimating) about another two hundred people in line. We looked at each other, shrugged, and headed back toward our office. One of my coworkers turned around and said, "I thought she was kidding!" Another said, "What did they do, buy five gallons of ice cream and figure that would be enough?"

We were disappointed not to get our treats, but the predominant thought among us was, how could such an event have been planned so poorly? It was teased via email for a week. Is there no rough estimate of the number of students and staff on the campus on a given day? Would an ice cream riot have been an inappropriate response?

20 July 2008

And the Nominees Are... Part 4: Comedy Acting

Let's begin with the leading ladies: I don't have a single complaint with this category. I think the academy got it just right. Tina Fey was nominated but didn't win last year, so I'll certainly root for her, but I'd kind of like to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus win this time. Her Christine Campbell is self-centered and competitive, but she comes across as a real person with good qualities as well as flaws. I also think Christina Applegate did a fine job as amnesia victim Samantha Newly, trying to make amends for her past behavior on Samantha Who?, but this was the show's first season, and I think the character needs time to develop and hopefully grow a bit more complex. America Ferrera won last year for Ugly Betty, so even though she's nominated again, I'd like to see the academy spread the love and choose one of the others. Oops, I forgot Mary-Louise Parker on Weeds. Nice job, maybe next year?

Actors: once again the academy is stuck in the James Spader rut of nominating someone over and over, even though he doesn't necessarily deserve it over and over. I'm referring specifically to Tony Shalhoub's Adrian Monk. Ricky Gervais won last year for Extras and I had no problem with that, but prior to that, Shalhoub had been nominated six times (not counting this one) and won three times for Monk. We get it, already: he has OCD and about a squillion quirks that go with it, but he's still a detective genius. Give someone else a turn, why don'tcha? Like, say, Josh Radnor as Ted on How I Met Your Mother. It's an ensemble show, but he's the central character, so I would say that qualifies.

Alec Baldwin's portrayal of loopy but sly network exec Jack Donaghy is one of the absolute best things about 30 Rock. Think what you want about him as a person, he's dead-on in this role. Steve Carell should probably win one of these years for his antics as the nightmare boss who wants to be everyone's friend on The Office. Newcomer Lee Pace did an excellent job as the deadpan center of Pushing Daisies, but it's probably too soon. Charlie Sheen? Funny enough on Two and a Half Men, but like the show, the performance is one-note. I'd have preferred to see Jason Lee get a nomination for My Name Is Earl; even though I thought the jail and coma storylines were not that effective and the show had a very uneven season, Lee made us admire Earl for his sincere efforts to be a better person, and he has first-rate comic chops and timing.

Supporting actresses: The nominees: Kristin Chenoweth for Pushing Daisies; Jean Smart for Samantha Who?; Amy Poehler for Saturday Night Live; Holland Taylor for Two And A Half Men; and Vanessa Williams for Ugly Betty. Naturally I would have liked to see Jenna Fischer get nominated for The Office. I'd probably give her Jean Smart's spot on the list. I liked Smart as Samantha's doubtful, pushy mom, but I thought she overplayed it a bit.

Vanessa Williams is a hoot as the wicked-witch Wilheilima Slater on Ugly Betty, but I thought Judith Light brought more depth to the character of long-suffering matriarch Claire Meade, while also making her extremely funny. Chenoweth is a Broadway vet who gave verve and spunk to Olive's unrequited love on Daisies. As for Poehler, what more needs to be said? She's hugely talented, and it's great to see her getting this recognition. Taylor has been nominated four times, including this year, for her role as Evelyn, Charile and Alan's iceberg of a mother on Two and a Half Men. She's easily the best thing about the show, and maybe it's time for her to get a statue, so she can move aside for new blood.

Supporting actors: eh. The nominees: Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon for Entourage; Neil Patrick Harris for How I Met Your Mother; Rainn Wilson for The Office; and Jon Cryer for Two And A Half Men.

Let's start by throwing out Piven and Dillon (sorry, guys) and replacing them with Jack McBrayer and Tracy Morgan from 30 Rock. Both their characters--McBrayer's addled hayseed Kenneth Parcell the NBC Page and Morgan's (intentionally?) outrageous actor Tracy Jordan--are completely insane, in completely different but equally hilarious ways. Next, let's get rid of Cryer (see Sheen, above) and slide in Jason Segel, who makes Marshall's quirks so sweet and lovable on How I Met Your Mother.

Last, substitute John Krasinski for Rainn Wilson. Same show, totally different vibe. Wilson's Dwight is intentionally overplayed, but it's getting harder to find the funny Dwight moments among the annoying Dwight moments, and the character of Dwight is the biggest reason people are turned off by The Office. Krasinski's Jim Halpert is given much more to work with by the show, and does much more with it. People get hung up on his puppy-dog eyes, but Jim has grown into a much more complex and rich character as he gradually realized it was time to grow up, while maintaining the mischievous edge we love (my favorite prank: putting Dwight's desk in the men's room).

But even with all those changes, my choice for this category is Harris, as womanizing bro-meister Barney Stinson on Mother. Sure he's an arrogant pig who uses people, but he has also shown us how much he cares for his friends Ted and Marshall. Harris's gift is in bringing all Barney's disparate strands into one whole person, and somehow making him likable in spite of his selfishness. Deep down, Barney just wants to be liked, just like everyone else. He just doesn't know how to show it, yet.

So, there we go. I guess I'm going to have to watch the awards this year. We'll revisit my ramblings on September 22nd and see how I did. And yes, you would be justified in concluding that I spend far too much time watching television.

19 July 2008

And the Nominees Are... Part 3: Comedy Shows

Television comedy has been having something of a fallow period for the past few years, which is not to say that there aren't any funny shows on, but compared to a decade ago, the number of comedy shows currently on the air is much lower. Part of the problem is that new shows take time to gain traction with audiences, and networks are notoriously impatient for immediate ratings successes. Also, a lot of shows just aren't funny (how is According to Jim still on the air?).

Networks have tried to freshen their comedy offerings by turning away from the traditional three-camera sitcom, shot on a soundstage in front of a live audience, to single-camera shows without laugh tracks such as Arrested Development and The Office. Personally, I prefer shows without a laugh track--I'm comfortable figuring out when I'm supposed to laugh--but it's more important that a show is funny. One of my favorite shows is How I Met Your Mother, which is done on a soundstage with a laugh track. I wouldn't care if it was filmed in an alley, it makes me laugh after a long day.

This year's Best Comedy nominees represent NBC (30 Rock and The Office), HBO (Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage), and CBS (Two and a Half Men). I think the academy got it about half right. I don't have HBO, but I have sampled both its entries on DVD, and I don't like either of them. Curb is very much an acquired taste, due to the persona of its creator and central character, Larry David. I watched a few episodes and found him to be more despicable than funny. I know that's supposed to be the point, but I couldn't stand him or anyone else in his orbit. But then, I never cared for Seinfeld, which David was also behind. I found the characters on that show incredibly unlikable, which for me largely precluded finding them funny.

The bits of Entourage that I've seen just bored me. The general consensus among critics is that this past season was not its best, but academy voters have shown a tendency to nominate shows somewhat retroactively, i.e. it was good before, so let's just go ahead and nominate it again.

As for Two and a Half Men, I watched it pretty regularly for a few years, and it's fairly funny, but it's a one-note show. Ninety percent of the jokes are of a crude sexual nature, which can be funny but not over and over and over. The other ten percent of the jokes seem to be about youngster Jake's bodily functions, har har.

30 Rock's gleefully absurd take on the behind-the-scenes workings of a sketch-comedy show is filled with so many jokes, sight gags, and tossed-off lines that it almost requires you to watch each episode twice (which I often do, thanks to my TiVo).

The Office is a sardonic and often surprisingly real look at what life at work is like for many cubicle dwellers, albeit with an exaggerated buffoon of a boss in Michael Scott (Steve Carell). I'll admit that I occasionally grow tired of Michael's infantile behavior, as well as that of his sycophantic and clueless underling Dwight Schrute, but when that happens, the other characters always manage to make up for it, particularly Andy, Kevin, and Angela.

I love both 30 Rock and The Office, both of which have previously won this award (in 2007 and 2006, respectively). I also have fairly large crushes on both Tina Fey (the Saturday Night Live alum who created 30 Rock and stars as harried head writer Liz Lemon, who must play ringmaster to her circus of writers and actors as well as her flaky boss, gloriously played by Alec Baldwin) and Jenna Fischer (The Office's sweet and plucky receptionist Pam Beesly, who holds things together at Dunder Mifflin's Scranton office). The Mrs. refers to them as my "TV girlfriends."

Given the nominated shows, I'd pick 30 Rock to win, mostly because I feel like its creators work really hard to make each episode as funny as possible. If I were choosing the five nominees for this category, my list would include The Office and 30 Rock, ABC's freshman fantasy Pushing Daisies (which was on the list of semifinalists), and CBS's How I Met Your Mother and The New Adventures of Old Christine.

is a candy-coated visual acid trip wrapped around a throwback detective show, wrapped around a classic story of life, death, and true love, and it's thoroughly original. But it isn't a comedy in the traditional sense--in fact, it defies a label of any kind--and that may have thrown the academy voters. Mother is a three-camera ensemble comedy in the tradition of Friends, but with sharper characterizations and the framing device of a father in 2030 relating to his children the stories of his friendships and relationships as a younger man (shown in flashback as the primary action of the show). Old Christine is also a traditionally shot soundstage show about a divorced woman (Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus, somewhat more likable here) trying to raise a son and maintain a cordial relationship with her ex-husband and his new love, also named Christine but younger and dumber. This show succeeds mainly because of the hard-working cast, and because it's genuinely funny. Hopefully, as these shows evolve they will get the recognition they deserve.

Still to come: comedy acting nominees.

18 July 2008

And the Nominees Are... Part 2: Drama Acting

(NOTE: This entry was originally part of the first Emmys post, but I decided to break it up. No particular reason.)

As in the show category, Jon Hamm's portrayal of Mad Men's central character Don Draper was a wonder to watch and he's probably going to be the favorite, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan managed a dark-horse win. Hugh Laurie could get the nod for House, and if it happened I wouldn't say he didn't deserve it, but I'd feel Hamm was robbed. The surprising but deserved nomination of Bryan Cranston for his intense and fearless turn as a science teacher turned meth-maker on Breaking Bad made me happy, and I've also heard good things about Gabriel Byrne's shrink on In Treatment, though I haven't seen the show.

As for the ladies, I feel about Glenn Close's Patty Hewes the same way I feel about Damages, but my gut tells me she's going to win. (My choice among this year's nominees would be Kyra Sedgwick for The Closer.) I don't watch Brothers and Sisters, so I don't have an opinion about Sally Field (though I'll point out that she won last year), and I can't even watch the commercials for Saving Grace, so I don't have anything nice to say about Holly Hunter in this role.

Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU finally got her statue a couple of years ago, but I think the show peaked right around that time, and has gone downhill since then in general. She usually gets one or two really good episodes each season, which is why she keeps getting nominated (presumably those are the ones that get submitted to the nominating committee), but it would be nice to see the academy loosen up a little. I think part of the problem is how "lead actress" is defined; I think Mad Men's January Jones deserved a nomination as Don Draper's wife Betty, but I suspect her role was not considered a leading one because Don's domestic life took a back seat to his work (and his indiscretions with a client and a bohemian Greenwich Village artist).

In the supporting-actress category, I don't have much to say about the women, only because I don't watch any of the shows in contention. I used to watch Grey's Anatomy, but halfway through this season, around the time new episodes dried up due to the writers' strike, I gave up. I couldn't stand the whining anymore, and I didn't feel that the storylines were going anywhere interesting. The two performers from the show who did get nominated, Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh, probably annoyed me the least and deserve their nominations. When I was watching, Dr. Bailey was easily my favorite character, so I'd like to see Wilson win, but I think some of the women on Lost should have been nominated here, especially Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet) and Yunjin Kim (Sun).

For the supporting actors, the only real disappointment is knowing that it's impossible to acknowledge the great work of all the excellent actors in the Lost ensemble, but at least they got it right with Michael Emerson's riveting, enigmatic Ben. [Okay, I lied before about not mentioning Boston Legal: how the hell does scenery-chewing William Shatner get nominated over Naveen Andrews (Sayid), or Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), or Jorge Garcia (Hurley), or Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), or Josh Holloway (Sawyer)? How? It's inexcusable.] If any show deserved to have more than one actor nominated in this category, it's Lost. I so hope Emerson wins, for all of them.

Elsewhere in the category, I've never cared much for Ted Danson's work, even on Cheers, but the way he played the numerous facets and shades of gray of Arthur Frobisher, the target of the litigation on Damages, was fantastic, and for me it was the best part of the show. Zeljko Ivanek, who played his attorney, was also nominated. He's been around TV for a couple of decades, and it's nice to see his work get acknowledged as well, but this slot probably should have gone to one of the Lost guys mentioned above.

Phew, that was tiring. And that's just the drama categories. We'll tackle comedy a bit later, or perhaps tomorrow.

And the Nominees Are...

With yesterday's announcement of this year's Emmy nominees, I thought I should start acting like what I claim to be (someone who cares about good TV) and offer up a few thoughts. This year the academy took the unusual step of announcing the category semifinalists a couple of weeks ago, which allows for both some insight into the nominating process, and for some snarky second-guessing (which is where I come in).

One criticism leveled at the academy is that its members do not make nominations based on the totality of a series's season, but on selected individual episodes. The best evidence of this is the inexplicable, perennial nominations for Boston Legal. I know a couple of people who watch and enjoy this show, and more power to them, I guess, but its selection over Friday Night Lights (which I don't even watch, but I'm well aware of its acclaim) or The Wire (ditto) only makes me wonder what flavor crack the academy members have been getting in their gift baskets year after year.

Also puzzling is that there are six nominees for best drama instead of the usual five; it's as though the academy intentionally bent the rules to shoehorn this insipid, ridiculous show into contention as a favor to someone (and did the same thing with the show's star James Spader in the best actor in a drama category). I won't dignify any of the show's nominations by discussing them; instead I'll simply ignore them and pretend they don't exist. Each nomination this show received means another, more deserving show or actor was shut out, and it isn't right.

Now that the ranting is out of the way, the real news in the Best Drama category this year is the nomination of not one, but two series that air on basic cable networks, Mad Men on AMC and Damages on FX. This is heartening because it affirms that the shows being produced on these channels are as good as, or better than, the big networks' offerings, and that prestige shows don't necessarily have to be on premium cable channels like HBO or Showtime. Hopefully this will demonstrate to show creators looking for homes for their projects that cable networks can provide a hospitable and nurturing environment for quality shows, without as much ratings pressure as at the big networks.

While Damages was certainly an entertaining show, I'm not sure it deserves to be nominated for best drama, because I felt it just wasn't in quite the same class as the other nominees. Mad Men, on the other hand, is one of the most nuanced and most quietly fascinating shows I have ever seen, and is my pick to win the category. The second season begins next Sunday, July 27th, and I'll have more to say about the show next week.

Lost had an awesome season, as it continues to fascinate, perplex, frustrate, and challenge viewers with the mysteries of the plane crash and the island. Aside from a few concrete answers, what more could you want in a show? A thoroughly deserved nomination.

House invigorated itself by bringing in a new group of doctors for Dr. House to torture, but the cases mostly followed the show's now-familiar formula, and the series still rests on Hugh Laurie's shoulders. That's not to take away anything from him or his portrayal, or any of the other actors, for that matter, but the show is not quite as intriguing as the character is.

Dexter: I have not yet seen the second season, but you already know how I feel about the show after having seen the first one. Season 2 drops on DVD on August 19th, and I'll be buying it right away.

16 July 2008

On the Wrist

I've been buying (and selling) stuff on eBay for nearly a decade. It was a slog back in the days when I still had a dial-up internet connection, so lunchtime surfing became (and still is) a regular part of my workday. My long-term relationship with eBay came about because of my long-term interest in old watches. Not pocket watches (though there's nothing inherently wrong with those), but wristwatches, primarily mechanical watches from the 1960s and 1970s.

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved watches. I got my first one when I was in first grade; I think it was a Christmas present, but memories from that far back are getting a little fuzzy. It had one of those striped ribbon-type straps, and a piece of plastic surrounding the watch face that was supposed to resemble a saddle. (I was six, and didn't know any better, but that would change.) In ninth or tenth grade I got what was then a bold new bit of technology, an LCD watch. Never mind the LED models; I skipped right over those. But by the time I graduated from high school, I had a renewed appreciation for watches with hands.

These days, many people don't bother to wear a watch; when they want to know what time it is, they look at their cellphones. But to me, a watch is much more than a utilitarian object; it's a bit of style as well as a bit of substance. A well-chosen watch shows that you pay attention to the details. The best of them are little pieces of art that you attach to your wrist and carry around with you all day. I often look at my watch not to see what time it is, but just to appreciate the craftsmanship and style of it.

(I like modern watches too. A $30 quartz Timex will keep better time than a 40-year-old wind-up mechanical watch, even an expensive one, ever could, so I appreciate them for different reasons.)

Before the internet, I rarely came across old watches for sale, except for the occasional find at a flea market or antique store. So the discovery of a vast marketplace largely free of geographic limitations was a joyous occasion. The first item I ever bought on eBay was a watch. The most recent thing I bought on eBay was a watch, which leads me to what I was getting to all along: for the first time since I started using eBay, I received the wrong item.

According to the seller, the item was in its original packaging, and he did not look inside the box before shipping it to me. The watch I received was similar to the one shown in the listing (I'm guessing he used a stock image from the manufacturer's web site), but different enough to matter, to me at least, so I've returned it. As someone who has sold items on eBay, I question his explanation, but it's not worth making an issue of it, as long as he refunds my payment. I'll just have to keep looking, and the searching is at least half the fun of it.

13 July 2008

That's Entertainment?

You know you've been married a while when your spouse suggests a "night out" at the local furniture emporium... for the food. And you agree.

Let me point out that we had other plans. We were supposed to see one of my coworkers perform at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, but the show had already sold out. He'd warned us, too. He put up a flyer in our office kitchen listing his upcoming shows, and it said "This show WILL sell out." So, my bad. He's performing there several more times over the next couple of months, so we will definitely catch one of those shows, and I promise to not be a doofus and buy the tickets ahead of time.

So yes, we spent our Saturday evening at Jordan's up in Reading. You all know by now how much we love Richardson's ice cream, which is sold inside the store. Well, there's a Fuddrucker's hamburgers inside the store as well. They are not the world's greatest hamburgers, but they are decent, and when you're hungry, a juicy burger and some delicious ice cream sounds like a pretty good combo. Plus, you can eat yourself silly for around $10.

We looked at some furniture, too, mostly to kill time between the burgers and the ice cream, to allow some digestion to occur.

09 July 2008

Watch Where You're Pointing That Thing (Crazy Gadgets Unit)

You sure do find some interesting stuff on Amazon.com. I never knew I needed one of these, but now that I know I can get it so easily and cheaply, well, maybe I'll get two.

(Insert obligatory Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference here.)

Bring one of these to your next performance review or salary negotiation. Just walk in and set it on the table, but don't look at it or acknowledge it in any way, and see how things go. Of course, if your employer does not have a sense of humor, you might find yourself looking for work elsewhere.

Oh, the fine print: "Crossbows, Bolts and Compound Bows cannot be shipped to NC; D.C.; MA; Canada or Puerto Rico." Man, our state is no fun at all. Guess I'll just have to have the package sent to my mom's address in RI.

(Source: SlickDeals.net via Consumerist)

08 July 2008

Holding My Water

I don't drink soda, and I've generally had my daily allotment of coffee by 11 AM, so I tend to drink water throughout the day. The easiest way to do this at work is to keep a bottle at my desk filled with the nice chilled, filtered water we have available in the kitchen.

Until recently, I would buy a one-liter bottle of Aquafina and reuse the bottle for a couple of months. (I like the Aquafina bottles because they have a wider opening, which I find easier to drink from and refill.) However, it was pointed out to me that these bottles are not supposed to be reused for extended periods of time because they will probably give me cancer or some other unpleasant disease, so I decided to get something more suitable.

Let me say here that I am not an outdoor person. I think most of you have already realized this, but I would seriously rather listen to John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Dave Matthews on a continuous loop than spend a night in a tent, so I don't often find myself in REI or EMS or any of the other places where outdoorsy people buy their water bottles. I see people carrying water bottles all the time, but it's just not something I had paid any attention to before.

One of my coworkers has an eye-catching aluminum bottle made by a Swiss company called Sigg. I had never heard of them, but apparently this is what all the cool kids are using now. I stumbled across some for sale last week at Whole Foods (still not a place we shop regularly, but sometimes we go there for chicken salad from their deli counter) and was shocked to learn that these things cost $20-22. For a bottle? I know everything is expensive these days, and I imagine these would cost more to produce than plastic bottles, but it just seems excessive. I guess you're paying for that precision Swiss manufacturing, just like with a watch.

I took a look on eBay, and there were plenty of bottles available. Most seemed to be going for full retail, which doesn't make much sense. If you're bidding on an item on eBay and end up paying the same as what you'd pay in a store, plus shipping, you're missing the point. And anyway I felt that bidding on a metal bottle was kind of a waste of my time.

Over the weekend I happened to be at the L.L. Bean store in Burlington, where I saw the same pricey metal bottles, as well as the more traditional plastic Nalgene bottles for $9. Fortunately the whole BPA thing has already played out, and the manufacturers have introduced reformulated bottles (with a big sticker that says "Now BPA-Free!").

Maybe it's just me, but I still think $9 is too much for a water bottle, but at least the Nalgene bottles are made in the United States. I probably should have checked in Target or CVS, but I did not feel like devoting more time and energy to this task, so I bought one. It's swell, I guess. The water tastes fine, but the price of the bottle leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

07 July 2008

Holiday Weekend: The Lazy Edition

Did everyone have a nice holiday weekend? I hadn't planned on being completely absent from posting, but when you get into the "rhythm" of doing nothing for a couple of days, it's all too easy to forget about things like blogs, or laundry, or household chores.

We are not trek-to-the-Esplanade people, so we spent most of the Fourth just hanging around the house. I made it an even lazier day by sleeping until a bit past 11 AM, after having gotten up around 8 to walk the dog. As soon as my feet hit the floor I thought, "I'm going to try to go back to sleep when I'm done walking her." I don't usually sleep so late on my days off, but I never get enough sleep during the work week, so I'm on a constant sleep deficit, as I imagine most people are, and I guess it just caught up with me.

In the evening we met a friend of the Mrs. at the Showcase in Revere and saw the action flick Wanted. It will never be mistaken for a great movie, but it's plenty entertaining and has some really impressive stunts and action sequences, and sometimes that's more than enough. If you're any kind of fan of the action genre, you'll enjoy it. Saturday was more or less a repeat of Friday, except I didn't sleep quite as late, we saw a different movie (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) at a different theater (the Capitol in Arlington), and no one joined us.

Yesterday we met a couple of the Mrs.' former coworkers for breakfast at SoundBites, then we did some errands and shopping. We left the house fairly early and were gone all day, until almost dinner time. It was weird to be up and out so early on a Sunday, since it's not our usual style. Each time I looked at my watch during the afternoon, I expected it to be about two hours later than it was.

Today it's back to the reality of work, laundry, and household chores. When's the next holiday?

02 July 2008

Seasonal Attire

My bus route seems to carry a fairly diverse cross-section of the local population, but I don't see too many men in full business dress, especially in the summer. When I got on the bus this morning, there was a guy sitting near the back wearing a light tan suit, light blue dress shirt, and a striped tie. He looked fairly put-together, in spite of the summer warmth.

I sat down across from him, and noticed that he was also wearing a pair of flip-flops, in almost the same color as his suit. He was holding some sort of bag, which probably contained his office shoes, but who knows? Maybe his employer has a peculiar seasonal dress code that still requires suits and ties but allows summer footwear. Maybe it was "flip-flop day," in the vein of the "Hawaiian shirt day" in that minor classic, Office Space.

Fortunately my job has a very relaxed dress code, so I spend the summer wearing shorts and sneakers to work. But if I did have a job where I had to dress up year-round, I think in warm weather I would carry my office clothes with me and change when I got to work. Riding the T is just too unpredictable; most of the buses have air conditioning these days, but it doesn't always work that well: on my way home last night, for example, the bus's AC was blasting, but for whatever reason it wasn't cool inside the bus. And every now and then I get on a subway car without working AC. In a suit, dress shirt, and tie, you could end up drenched in sweat by the time you got to work, which is not a good way to start the day, and probably wouldn't go over too well with your coworkers either.

01 July 2008

Orthographically Yours

Dear Simon & Schuster,

I saw the very pretty full-page color advertisement for Chasing Darkness, Robert Crais's new Elvis Cole thriller, that you placed in today's New York Times. Good stuff. Usually I just skip over these things (last week I think there was one for James Patterson's new book, but who reads his books anyway?), but this caught my eye. I have to confess that I have not managed to get around to reading the Elvis Cole series, but I know that the books have generally received good reviews, and I do enjoy a good mystery, so I'm sure I'll get to them someday.

I hate to nitpick, but there is something I feel I have to bring to your attention. The ad copy makes reference to "a series of grizzly deaths." Really? How terrible. How many grizzlies died? Oh wait, did you mean "a series of grisly deaths"? Yeah, because that's something kind of different. Somebody over there in marketing screwed up big-time, huh? Damn that spell checker in Word. It's smart enough to know if you've spelled a word correctly, but not smart enough to know which correct spelling is the right one for a given sentence.

And none of those bright, shiny employees of yours caught the error, eh? Embarrassing. You do have people who proofread these things, right? I work in publishing, so I know how it is. Stuff needs to be right before it goes to the printer, or you can end up looking pretty stupid. I know a couple of people who are good at this sort of thing that are looking for work, so if you need some help in that area, just let me know. Have a nice day.

Your intrepid blogger,
Some Assembly Required