31 October 2008

For the Dogs' Sake

This week, two of my coworkers asked me my opinion on ballot question #3, which would prohibit dog racing in Massachusetts as of January 2010. People in the office know that we adopted a retired racing greyhound two years ago, so it makes sense that they would want to know what I think.

I plan on voting yes on question #3, which is a vote in favor of the prohibition. It may not constitute animal cruelty, but even for dogs that do well, the life of a racing dog is difficult. Dogs are our domestic companions, and while greyhounds are gifted with exceptional speed, it strikes me as unfair to subject them to the stress and potential injury of track life.

Our dog still reacts when she hears the sound that certain diesel truck engines make; it's clear that it reminds her of her racing days, being transported to and from the track, and she's worried that hearing that sound might mean she has to go back. Then the noise subsides and she remembers her racing days are over, and she puts her head back down on her comfy dog bed and breathes a sigh of contentment.

Even if the question is approved, it won't mean the end of racing everywhere; although our dog was kenneled in Massachusetts, she ran all her races at the Seabrook track, just over the border in New Hampshire. Adoption groups have placed many happily retired dogs with loving families, but these sweet-natured, intelligent animals deserve a life of happiness and love without having to first earn their retirement on a race track.

Leaf Sweeper

This morning while walking the dog, I saw an elderly woman on the opposite sidewalk sweeping leaves off her lawn and sidewalk and out into the street. I suppose that's one way to get rid of them, but besides the lazy and un-neighborly aspect of this behavior, it seems fairly likely that the wind will eventually carry them right onto her property again.

30 October 2008

Stopping & Shopping

Stop & Shop built a brand new store right next to the existing one where we do most of our food shopping. It opened a couple of weeks ago, so I've had the chance to have a bit of a look around.

At first the idea of plopping a new store next to an existing one seems a bit puzzling. But renovating an existing building is not always the most practical or cost-effective option. New construction allows the existing store to remain open for business without disruption until the new one is ready, and also invites the use of more environmentally friendly building techniques and materials that may not have existed when the older store was being built.

In the case of this particular store, due to the way it was situated on the property there was no way to expand the building's footprint except to come forward into the parking lot, and that would surely have disrupted the store's normal operation. The adjacent strip mall had a large empty store, the former site of an Ames that closed over a decade ago, so the builders simply knocked down that part of the structure, leaving more than enough space for the new store.

Meanwhile, the new supermarket follows the basic template that Stop & Shop has been using for its recent stores. Bakery, deli, and prepared foods are given prominent and more abundant space just inside the entrance. We don't do a lot of cooking, due mostly to laziness, so this arrangement suits us nicely. The asiles of the rest of the store seem a bit wider, and the general newness of things makes trips to the grocery store somewhat more pleasant. And atmosphere definitely affects sales. It seems subjetive, but I believe that people do connect with stores on an emotional level, at least a little bit.

Supermarket chains survive on very thin margins, and if companies don't invest in keeping their stores up to date, shoppers will go elsewhere. Having lived near an undersized, run-down, and generally quite depressing Star on Broadway in Somerville for over a decade, I can attest to this. I avoided this miserable store for exactly these reasons (unless it was an emergency), and always wondered why the company didn't bother to fix up the place. Then Stop & Shop opened a big, shiny Somerville store a short distance away, and that pretty much eliminated any remaining reasons for people to keep going to the ratty old Star; it closed, supposedly for renovations, a couple of years later, but it turned out to be permanent.

I don't know what's going to happen to the old Stop & Shop building now. I suppose it could be subdivided into smaller spaces (which are easier to lease), or maybe it too is going to be razed to make way for something else. This particular strip mall has had its share of ups and downs over the years, and recently there has been a fair bit of other retail development in the area as well, so with that and the sucky economy, it may be a while before anything happens.

27 October 2008

Yeah, That'll Work

Okay, so a little demo and reno seems to have done the trick, which is another way of saying that there were too many values that needed to be changed in the old design template to get it to display any wider (and the trial and error that goes along with checking each one and making sure they don't conflict with each other), so I just picked a different template that is wider to begin with. I'd been thinking it was time to make a few tweaks anyway.

It looks like this template adjusts itself to fit whatever size you have your browser window set to, which is preferable, and what I would have liked the other one to do. Hey Blogger folks: how about some new template designs?

Can I Get a "What What"?

This is old by now, since it was from last weekend, but if any of you didn't catch Amy Poehler's Sarah Palin rap on Saturday Night Live, I decided to post it here, just because it was effin' hilarious. It runs about three minutes; enjoy.* (I think you need Flash for it to work properly.)

*Does not constitute endorsement of a particular candidate

26 October 2008

The Catalog of Ridiculous Excess

From time to time I like to check out the gleefully snarky site Jezebel, which considers itself a women's site with an emphasis on pop culture, shopping, and sex, but I suspect a lot of men read it too, simply because it's quite funny. One of Jezebel's features that I really like is called Today in Catalogs, where the writer critiques the products, the accompanying copy, and the presentation of a particular catalog, usually not in a positive way.

So when a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog ("America's Longest Running Catalog") landed in my mailbox, I got the idea to do something similar. If Sharper Image is was the store for people with more money than sense or taste, then HS is its snobby older cousin with a tricked-out BMW M3 and a Bluetooth headset: even more money, still questionable sense and taste, and an attitude of superiority to go along with them.

Twenty years ago I had a boss who was quite enamored of this catalog, and it's quite clear why: buying stuff from it was a way to show off and stroke his ego, and if you need to do those things, then this is the place for you. HS is so full of itself and the specialness of its merchandise that each of its product names begins with "The," as in "The 1950s Countertop Soda Pop Machine" ($160), "The Lighted Billiard Balls" ($250), and "The Indoor Dog Restroom" ($150). There's also "The Aquarium Coffee Table" for $600, "The Personal Towel Warmer" for $100, or "The Stainless Steel Wallet" (huh?) for $90.

Those really sound like must-have items, don't they? Well, it gets better. There are also certain items that are described as "best" or "world's best": These "best" items are supposedly tested and deemed superior by the "Hammacher Schlemmer Institute," which is surely as impartial as it sounds. "The Best Electric Blanket" ($110 to $200, depending on size)--does anyone still use an elcetric blanket? I had one when I was growing up, three-plus decades ago, but I didn't ask for it and I didn't like it; my mom was just stingy with the heat in the winter.

Then there's "The Best Electronic Pants Presser" ($500), which costs ten or twelve times what a decent iron will cost you. Or how about "The World's Best Tabletop Prelit Noble Fir Tree" ($130), which is 40 inches high by 30 inches wide. I get why people buy prelit Christmas trees, but I think something this small is pretty pointless, and if you don't have enough space for a full-size tree, then you probably shouldn't be wasting your money on stuff like this anyway.

HS also seems to have a peculiar obsession with heated clothing. There are heated gloves ($25), socks ($25), insoles ($100), and a carbon-fiber vest ($150), all of which accomplish their tasks via rechargeable battery packs. What, no heated underwear? (Probably next year.)

To be fair, the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer do sell some things that are actually practical and useful, most of which tend to fall in the categories of fitness and personal care (blood pressure monitors, swim goggles, therapeutic heat/cold wraps). But these seem secondary to the rest of the useless, showy, and overpriced crap like the $2000 remote-controlled 1:10 scale Ferrari hydroplane, the various Thomas Kinkade holiday decorations, or the $3000 authentic Pac-Man arcade game.

These things sound just so appropriate for our current financial-crisis times, don't they? But maybe the events of the past month or so haven't affected you and your fortune. Maybe you're one of those people who equates lavishing expensive gifts on friends and family with your own self-worth. If so, Hammacher Schlemmer may have just what you need: "The 6 Foot Working Ferris Wheel Kit" ($500), or better yet, "The 14 MPH Cooler" ($500), which is basically a go-kart with an electric motor built around a cooler with an optional seat/backrest ($30). That probably isn't going to end well, so maybe this is a good gift idea for someone you don't like all that much, huh?

21 October 2008

People Behaving Oddly Unit

Today I witnessed this exchange while waiting in line to buy my lunch. The woman in front of me had a bottle of Gatorade, or some other equally garishly colored drink, and a clear plastic take-away container with something vaguely golden brown inside. It was hard to tell, because whatever it was had steamed up the container.

The cashier rang her up, and the woman looked at the total. She said that it was too much. The cashier explained that it was X amount for the drink and Y amount for the french fries. The woman said, "Oh, this isn't french fries, it's chicken. I brought it from home and they cooked it for me in the kitchen."

First of all: huh? You're bringing food from home and having it cooked for you? You couldn't cook it at home and reheat it? Do you know something about the cafeteria food that the rest of us don't? Second, if you insist on such a bizarre lunch regimen, don't you think it would be a small courtesy to explain to the poor, baffled cashier what exactly is going on, so she doesn't have to guess and make a mistake? Wouldn't it make a ton more sense to head that off?

19 October 2008

Wife, Work, Dog

Ugh, what a week. Fortunately I have finally shaken off the remains of my cold. I think Friday was the first day I really felt like I was approaching normal again. Of course, right on schedule, the Mrs. seems to have caught it, or a similar bout of blechness that's going around her office, so yesterday was kind of a lost day. She slept most of the day; I was bored and was going to head into town by myself, but then I remembered that the T is doing work on the Orange Line this weekend and is running bus shuttle service instead of train service, and I decided it would end up being too much trouble to even try going anywhere.

Work, well, it's coming along okay. I didn't accomplish quite as much as I'd hoped to, but given the disruptions in schedule over the past week or so, it's not surprising, and I still got a lot done. I was talking with a coworker about why the powers that be scheduled our annual meeting, which took up half a day, during the same week as a holiday, meaning most of the people in the office effectively lost almost two days of work this week. It doesn't seem like very well thought-out planning; they have asked us to provide feedback, so I will suggest having the meeting a week later next year and hope that others do the same.

Then there's the dog. At 2:30 this morning I was awakened by her whining. I went to check on her and it seemed like she was just whining because she was cold, so I covered her and went back to bed, but fifteen minutes later she started whining again, so I knew that meant she needed to go out. I got dressed and took her out to the back yard, where she proceeded to start sniffing things, as if it was just a casual trip outside. Now I do love this dog, but if she's going to wake me up in the middle of the night to be taken out, she'd better focus on doing her thing when she gets out there, you know? So we had a little chat, and she got her priorities straight.

She woke me up again at 6, and I went and covered her again. That was good for an hour; at 7 she started whining again, and I figured since the sun was now up, I might as well walk her. Luckily after we got back I was able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. This is the third time in the past two weeks that she's awakened us during the night, so something may be up with her digestion. Hopefully it won't require a trip to the vet.

But you know what? A good cup of coffee, a bright, sunny fall day, and an ALCS game 7 can make everything feel better. Go Sox!

14 October 2008

A Brief Public Service Announcement

This is a tricky week for me. I'm still not entirely over my stupid cold, I have to go to this sort of retreat thing for work tomorrow that I am very much not looking forward to, and in theory I need to get my monthly assignments done by Friday. Not sure if that's going to happen, but I will try.

Anyway, I wanted to be a bit civic-minded and point out that here in Massachusetts, tomorrow, October 15th, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 4th general election. You can find information on how to register on this page.

I'm one of those people that thinks it's important to vote. I would not presume to suggest who you should vote for, because I don't want this blog to be about politics, and because that's a decision you need to make for yourself. But this has been an extraordinary year in so many ways, and I think that's going to be reflected in a high voter turnout in this election. I'd think people would want to be part of that.

11 October 2008

Friday Night at the Grocery Store (A Sort of Reverie)

Last night the Mrs. went to sleep super early, and I found myself watching TV a little after 9. I was about to switch over to the Red Sox game when I was seized with a snack attack. A quick spin around the kitchen confirmed that no suitable snacks were on the premises, so I put on my shoes and headed to the nearest grocery store, the Foodmaster at the intersection of route 60 and route 28 in Medford.

What I had in mind was some butterscotch pecan cookies that they bake on the premises, but unfortunately they were out, which was not surprising since it was about 30 minutes before closing time. I settled for some Ben & Jerry's. As I made my way around the nearly empty store, it reminded me of an idea I had years ago.

A long time ago, let's say 11 years just because today's the 11th, we were on our way home from somewhere on a Friday night, and remembered that we needed something at the store. It was a little after midnight when we walked into the same Stop & Shop where we now do most of our regular food shopping. We had never been there quite so late, and the store was bustling with restocking activity, but had hardly any customers. Interestingly, they had also turned off about half of the overhead fluorescent lights, giving the store a much cozier ambiance than usual.

This was right around the time that bowling alleys started doing the "atomic bowling" thing, with the colored lights, blasting music, and blacklight-glowing pins and balls. Almost instantly my brain went, "Atomic shopping!" Late-night grocery shopping with a dash of socializing mixed in, or vice versa, depending on your point of view. It seemed like an obvious and cool idea to me, but let's face it, it's usually easy to impress yourself.

Several years later, through a combination of circumstances I found myself working at Trader Joe's on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. One evening I was helping a coworker set up one of the wine tastings and the atomic shopping idea popped back into my head. The wheels started turning: a lot of young, single people shop at this store. Why not play to that audience? Add some festive lighting, hook a DJ into the store's sound system, sample some appetizers along with the wine. Turn Friday nights at Trader Joe's into a singles party.

I actually proposed this idea to the manager, but he was not receptive. Your loss, I thought, you'd probably get some extra business out of it. But that's how it goes when you're an underling. I still think this idea would have merit in the right circumstances, so if anyone who is reading this is in a position to make it happen, feel free to borrow my idea. And send me pictures.

10 October 2008

Random Bits of Randomness

--I got smart and stayed home yesterday to try to shake my cold. I really should have stayed home on Wednesday, but I felt like I needed to get to a certain point in my monthly work process. Also, I have determined that the decongestant that now comes in most multi-symptom cold medications is for shit. In the aftermath of widespread thefts of Sudafed for use in making crystal meth, companies rushed to reformulate their cold products. That's kind of pointless, since a multi-symptom pill contains more acetaminophen than anything else, and now we're left with cold products that do a lousy job of decongesting. I'm feeling better, but maybe I would have felt better sooner if I'd taken something more effective.

--This morning I headed to the cafeteria looking forward to my weekly Friday treat, an egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin with either sausage or bacon. I stopped eating lunch from this cafeteria a long time ago, but I love their breakfast sandwiches. Usually there are a bunch of them pre-made and sitting in a bin on a warming plate, but today the bin was empty. Sometimes this happens, and the person working the grill behind the counter will make me a fresh one. Today I asked the person for a sandwich, and she told me they had run out of English muffins. Oh, the humanity! Fortunately I've started keeping some breakfasty food at the office, so I had to make do with pineapple chunks and a Quaker Oatmeal to Go breakfast bar.

--Recently I was in the TJ Maxx at Downtown Crossing. I didn't find anything interesting, but on my way out of the store I got to witness something amusing. The store is above street level, so you have to ride an escalator up to it. The down escalator was not operating, so I started walking down. I'd gone about a third of the way when I heard a "Hello?" from above me. I didn't think it could have anything to do with me, so I kept walking. Again, "Hello?" slightly louder, then, "Miss?" That got the attention of the woman in front of me, who stopped and looked up. Since I couldn't keep walking, I looked up too. One of the store clerks was there, leaning over the railing and holding something in her hand. She said, "You forgot these!" and waved a small black item, then dropped it. The woman in front of me caught what appeared to be a pair of socks or tights, looked back up and said, "Thank you!" and proceeded on her way.

08 October 2008

Oh Goody, A Cold

The week started off well: the weather was nice, I had lunch on Monday with A Proper Bostonian (something we've been trying to accomplish for a while now), and I love October in general, so it tends to put me in a good mood.

Then on Monday night, it crept up on me. I kept waking up during the night, unable to breathe because my head was so congested. My throat hurt. Yesterday I felt achy and run down in general, and today all of these are worse. Lucky me.

I don't get sick often, and I'm usually pretty careful about potential germ exposure, but when you ride public transit to and from work, there's only so much you can do. An alternate theory is that I was playing with the dog on Sunday afternoon, and her slimy nose accidentally made contact with my lips, yecch. Who knows, though, and does it really matter now? Bottom line: I'm sick.

I need to get to a drugstore to lay in a supply of hand sanitizer, pocket packs of tissues, Airborne, and whatever cold medication looks like it will do the best job. And I really feel like I need some sleep. If I get enough done at work today, I could use a sick day tomorrow and rest.

I really need to get better, because I have a ticket to see The Feelies on Saturday night. They got back together after 17 years, and it's probably been closer to 20 since I saw them live, so I ain't missin' this show.

06 October 2008

Location Shot

The Mrs. was supposed to go to Brooklyn this weekend (without me) to see a friend and her new baby, but she (the Mrs.) wasn't feeling too great on Friday, so she canceled her plans because she didn't want to chance making the baby sick, and she probably wouldn't have been much in the mood for driving anyway. So we stayed close to home, catching up on TV and such.

I finally got around to watching this past week's episode of Fringe. It's managing to be just interesting enough to keep me watching. However, since the show is so reminiscent of The X-Files, it made me realize that, for all the confusion fostered by that show's intricate, arcane, and ultimately ridiculous "mythology," the stand-alone episodes generally attempted to offer some sort of explanation, however far-fetched it may have been, for the mysterious occurrences being investigated by Agents Mulder and Scully. By contrast, Fringe has made few such attempts so far, while presenting a growing array of unanswered questions that will quickly become tedious and annoying if answers are not forthcoming soon.

But the only reason I mention the show now is because of my previous discussion of its Boston fakery. As it happened, there was an actual shot of Boston in the most recent episode: a night shot from above of the North Station area. The train tracks, Garden, and Tobin Bridge loop ramps were clearly visible, and the city looked all bright and twinkly. Hopefully they'll use more of these shots, and start explaining some things as well.

03 October 2008

Damn My Feeble Brain!

Today I managed to forget my glasses. You might wonder how that's possible, since I wear them all the time. When I took the dog out before leaving for work, I put on my (prescription) sunglasses, and put my regular glasses and their case on the edge of my desk, right next to the chair where I had set my bag.

We came back from our walk and I got the dog her breakfast. In order to receive her food, she has to go into her crate and lie down. Today she decided to be stubborn about it and wouldn't lie down. It's pretty much the only thing she can do to express her displeasure at being left home alone all day.

Generally at this point in the morning I'm ready to run out the door, so this sort of glitch tends to make me a bit flustered. If I leave the room for long enough, London will generally get tired of standing and will lie down on her own (especially if I leave the food sitting on top of the crate), but I didn't have time to wait around for that today, so I sort of helped her along a little, gave her her food, and left, but the whole thing was enough of a distraction to cause me to forget the glasses; since my sunglasses were still on my face, I could still see what I was doing, more or less.

Clearly I should have slipped the glasses and case into my bag, but it's not as bad as it sounds. I spend the bulk of my day sitting in my cube looking at my computer, and when I'm working at the computer I take off my glasses anyway. I do the same thing when I'm reading: if something is close enough, I don't need my glasses. The office is familiar enough and the lighting is good enough so I can walk around safely, but for things like getting around outside and crossing the street, they are rather necessary

Hopefully I'll make it home before it gets dark. And I think I have a really old pair somewhere at home that I can bring in to keep here, just in case I do something this stupid again...

02 October 2008


Recently I happened to be looking through an issue of Details magazine. I don't normally read Details, as it's aimed primarily at guys in their 20s, which I haven't been for a long time now. But I was waiting for the Mrs. and the magazine happened to be there, so I flipped through it.

Details is full of contradictions. On the one hand, it aims to give guys advice on post-college living and becoming more grown up, but on the other hand, it tells them things like it's okay to just wear your khakis wrinkled. I suppose it depends on where you're wearing them. I try not to iron on weekends if I can help it, but sometimes it's necessary.

The wrinkled look has been popular for a while, though I'm still not sure if it's going to run its course or become part of the zeitgeist. I can recall seeing instructions a few years ago, either on the Polo or J. Crew web site, for how to get your shirts to have a just-so wrinkled look. The basic idea was--and I swear I am not making this up--to take your wet shirt out of the washing machine and tie it in a knot, then put it into the dryer. Now you don't even have to work that hard; some clothes come pre-crinkled.

I have to take issue with this attitude. I'm not looking to portray myself as some avuncular advice-giver, but this is just stupid. I have no love for ironing, but I prefer to present a persona to the world that does not look like it slept in its clothes. If you're doing construction or working at a used CD store, you can wear pretty much whatever you feel like. But if you have any kind of "real" job, or hope to get one some day, you need to project a certain degree of respectability, regardless of how indolent you really are. You have to be able to fake it; that's what it really means to be a grown-up.

Other than early-morning dog-walking, when I leave the house I ask myself: if I witness an accident or something and end up being interviewed on TV, would I be embarrassed by my appearance? Would my mother be embarrassed on my behalf? Think about it. Why does it seem like the eyewitness who gets interviewed on camera is always the person wearing a dirty T-shirt with the sleeves cut off?

If you fold your pants flat when they come out of the dryer and then stack them flat instead of hanging them, some of the wrinkling works out on its own. And how long does it take to iron pants anyway? About five minutes, if that. Or you could go ahead and try the wrinkle-free kind, if you must. Personally I can't stand the feel of whatever fun chemical compounds they're using to treat the fabric. It feels like I'm wearing laminated pants.

Shirts take longer to iron, yes. Lots of oddly-shaped weird bits. You could try having your shirts done at a cleaners (or "cleansers" as it's often called around here, for whatever reason), but this is expensive, and you risk damage, loss, and the dreaded "shiny shirt syndrome." If your shirts are all white or light-colored this is less of an issue, but if you like darker colors, you risk looking like your shirt has been laminated, too.

I've been told fabric softener is the answer, but I've never tried it. No particular reason, just never have. It was never used in our house when I was growing up, so I never learned to use it in my own laundry. Environmentally, it's probably a toss-up between the added chemicals in the wash water vs. the electricity needed to run the iron. But if you think like that too much, your head will start to hurt. I suppose I should try using fabric softener, in the name of research, to see if it makes any noticeable difference in my clothes.

The other suggestion that I think has merit comes from GQ's Style Guy, Glenn O'Brien, a man of considerable knowledge and taste. He suggests using a hand steamer because "life is too short" to iron. This is something else I may need to pursue. Do any of you esteemed readers use a steamer? Fabric softener? Other hints, tips, suggestions?