31 January 2009

Snark Time

It's cold outside, so how about a couple of chuckles?

You've probably seen that crazy commercial for the crazy Snuggie blanket-jacket thing by now. Here's a version with an alternate audio track.

And then there's this clip for a somewhat specialized dating service. It's a few months old, but it just came to my attention recently. Be sure to scroll down and read the comments to get the full impact on this one.

30 January 2009

Potty Break

It used to be that when one needed to pay an, um, extended visit to the restroom, one might bring along some reading material. In fact, in a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall visited his old apartment to "read a magazine" because he wasn't comfortable doing so at work.

But these days, of course, we have many more options available to us. Recently, on a couple of visits to the restroom at work I have detected the telltale sound (click-click-click...click-click...click-click...click-click-click) of texting coming from inside the stall. Now, I've come to appreciate the value of text messaging in certain situations, but that is not what I would consider one of those.

Then just this morning, I detected a different but equally unmistakable sound, the scritchety one that the little pebble-trackball thing on a BlackBerry makes when you scroll it. So someone was surfing, or emailing, or doing some other BlackBerryish thing while on the throne. That's swell, I guess. Personally, I don't like to even bring my phone into the restroom, mainly because I'm afraid of dropping it into the bowl.

27 January 2009

What Month Is It?

Over the weekend, hearing that another storm was headed our way this week, I decided I wanted to get a snow blower. I actually don't mind shoveling all that much, and the landlord pays me to take care of the sidewalk and driveway, but given the number of times it's already snowed this winter, and the total amount of snow we've received thus far, and that each time it's taken me an average of two hours to complete the task, I thought it was time to enlist mechanical aid. (Also, the neighbors on either side have blowers, so I have a bit of power equipment envy.)

But it was not to be. As far as the stores are concerned, it's already spring. In fact, it's already summer. I saw gardening supplies, patio furniture, lawn mowers, even grills. I have a hard time imagining people thinking about buying this stuff right now, let alone actually buying it. One guy at Lowe's was apologetic. "The merchandise is at least three months ahead of the actual calendar," he said. At least I was able to still buy a snow shovel. With the blowers, the stores get one shipment in the fall, and when they're gone, that's it. They don't want to get stuck with unsold inventory come spring.

In fact, Sears in the Burlington Mall still had two models of snow blowers on display, but it's Sears, so good luck trying to find a human to ask if they still have any in stock. And at 8:50 PM, just as I'd located these two machines, the PA told me that the store would be closing in ten minutes. I'm sure this mall used to be open til 10, especially on Friday nights. Sure enough, I checked the mall web site and they have cut back; the whole mall now closes at 9. Tough times.

25 January 2009


Has anyone else seen the ridiculous Legal Sea Foods commercial that's been running this week? Playing off the inauguration, the ad shows a backdrop of the White House while bragging that Legal's chowder has been served at every inauguration since 1981. Fine, but then we're treated to the disgusting sounds of what are supposed to be various presidents slurping the chowder as their names are displayed on the screen.

Ecch. I thought last year's tempest in a chowder bowl over the Legal ads on the T was a hoot, because the ads were fairly tongue-in-gill and the response to them was (in my opinion) so disproportionate, but I find this ad tasteless. Slurping shouldn't be encouraged, because our culture has enough trouble maintaining its dignity as it is, and this cheapens the great dignity we all witnessed at the inauguration.

I thought we wouldn't have to be subjected to the ad after the inauguration, but it keeps popping up. Hopefully it will run its course in a few more days.

23 January 2009

Cuz I Kan't Do Math So Gud...

In yesterday's Boston Globe, in the arts and lifestyle section (which is now called "g" or, as I refer to it, "the section with the comics in it"), there was an article about how it's so difficult for people to figure out how much stuff in stores costs, because there are so many discounts on top of discounts, and coupons, and some stuff is on clearance but other stuff isn't, and so on.

Wow, I thought my life was hard. Woe to the helpless shoppers who are struggling so mightily to figure out how much money they're saving. Those poor souls! Apparently none of them ever received any sort of formal education in arithmetic. At least, that's what this retail analyst seems to think:
"You almost need to be a math major to figure it out," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics Inc., a market research firm. He provided an example of the kind of calculations confusing some consumers. "You take 40 percent off the original price, then you take 20 percent off that price, which works out to be [a discount of] roughly 52 percent, but the consumer thinks it's going to be 60 percent."
But you know, maybe he's right. Our society has certainly gotten dumber in lots of other ways. Ignorance and selfishness rule, so why should we waste our minds on crap like math? There's plenty of other stuff with which to occupy them, like keeping up with the latest antics of those heinous excuses for human beings on The Hills, updating mySpace pages, and playing video games. Math? Please. Math is for dorks and overachievers.

One enterprising young lady mentioned in the story was using the calculator in her cell phone to determine a sale item's final price. Good for her for figuring out how to avoid using her brain for that pesky math stuff. And let's not forget to give credit to the Globe for aiming high with this story. That's some hard-hitting lifestyle journalism.

I am wondering why no mention was made of the price scanners that now proliferate in most large stores, which are more likely to have multiple levels of discounts and markdowns and additional promotions. The scanners can be wrong, but most of the time they're right. I usually estimate the final sale price in my head, then find a scanner to see if there's the pleasant surprise of any additional amount off.

But seriously, have people really lost the ability to do basic arithmetic? That's just pathetic. If you can't figure out how to take an additional 40% off the price of something that's already been marked down 30%, you deserve to pay full price.

21 January 2009

Battle of the Blades

In the interest of public service, I've been conducting a little experiment over the past couple of months. In my ongoing, never-ending quest for a better, more comfortable shave, I have invested a great deal of time, and a not insignificant amount of money, in trying out products. Along the way I've learned that many places (Sephora, Kiehl's) will happily give you a sample, so you can find out whether or not something is any good without shelling out $15 or $20 only to discover that it doesn't work for you. I've also developed a core group of products that I almost always return to because they work best for me.

But I haven't tried a different razor in many years. For a really long time I have avoided using Gillette razors, partly because they tend to be more expensive than competing products, and partly because I felt they did not give me a good enough shave. (I got sucked into the whole "Power" thing when they introduced the battery-operated M3Power a few years back. It didn't give me a better shave, and in fact it irritated the hell out of my neck. I had a similarly unpleasant experience with an electric razor that dispensed an allegedly soothing goo.)

If you have spent any time looking at the razor aisle of your local drugstore, you've probably noticed that it's difficult to buy a razor that isn't a Gillette. Pretty much the only option is a Schick razor, and having always been something of a contrarian, that's what I've been buying for years. But I have to admit that since the Fusion razor was introduced in 2006, I have been very curious about what sort of shave it would give, though I was reluctant to shell out money to try it. A couple of months ago I found a promotional display in my local Target with Fusion razors for $5. At that price point (instead of the usual $8 or $9 for a razor handle and two cartridges) I was willing to give it a try.

At the time I purchased the Fusion razor, I was out of my usual shaving cream, and I was trying to use up some other, lesser stuff in an effort to be a bit more fiscally responsible. The first time using it, I got a pretty good shave, but by the next shave it seemed like the blades had already become dull. I think I managed one more shave before I had to get rid of the first cartridge. Fortunately, I only have to shave a couple of times a week. I went back to my Schick for a few shaves, then when I bought more shaving cream, I got the Fusion back out with the second cartridge. This time things went a little better, though I still managed only four shaves before I had to discard the second cartridge. (I usually get five or six shaves out of one Schick cartridge.)

One thing I didn't like about the Mach3 that has not changed with the Fusion is the way the blade pivots on the handle. Because of the way it's mounted, you have to hold it in your hand in such a way that it's like shaving with a paint brush. This gives you less control, plus it feels really weird. Also, five blades means the head is awkwardly large, making it more difficult to shave certain tricky areas (under the nose, around the ears) closely.

On the positive side, the Fusion did give a nice, close shave when the blades were new, and the head rinsed more cleanly and easily than any other razor I've encountered. But these things were not enough to offset the negatives, especially how quickly the blades got dull. In fact, every time I have used Gillette blades, they have dulled more quickly than comparable Schick products. Even buying in bulk at a warehouse club or on the web, the premium that Gillette charges for Fusion cartridges is a deal-breaker for me. Of course, your mileage may vary. Happy shaving.


Overheard on the Orange Line this morning: "We're packed in here so tightly, I don't have to hold onto anything!"

18 January 2009

Personal (Celtic) Jesus

Yeah, it's been a few days. My monthly work deadline was moved from the 20th of the month to the 15th, so it was a fairly busy week, plus we've put in place some new systems for how the work gets done, so there was some stuff to be learned along the way this time. But everything went pretty smoothly, and the editors are happy, which is usually the most important thing (after the customers, I guess). Knowing I have the extra day off tomorrow is nice.

Not at all related to that, lately we've noticed a vehicle around our neighborhood with an unusual accessory. It's a typical Honda CR-V from a few years back, and it has what at first looked to be a Celtics tire cover on the back, with the cartoon leprechaun logo design. Then a week or so ago, we were behind the car at a light, and the Mrs. noticed that there was something different about the design. Instead of saying "Boston Celtics" around the cartoon, it said "Jesus Saves."

We saw the car again yesterday, and I was able to snap a hasty phone cam picture, but even if I bothered to upload it, I don't think it would be able to show enough detail. But we did learn what street the car lives on, so at some point it may be possible to get a picture with the digital camera. But in the meantime, we have plenty to speculate about.

Is this product an officially licensed Celtics accessory? My gut says no. It seems much more likely that it's a homegrown expression of appreciation for both the Celtics and the Lord. Someone probably went to a fair bit of effort to create this item, and the owner is obviously proud of it, or s/he wouldn't be displaying it on the back of a car. I think that's great; that kind of freedom of expression is what our country is about.

But I'm fascinated by the incongruous nature of the combination. Let's face it, you don't see a lot of sports-faith crossovers in this part of the country. And I suspect there are people who would find this sort of thing blasphemous. But you know, the Celtics won the championship last year, and they're having another great season; who can say whether one fan's expression of faith may have anything to do with that? I'm just saying, there may be something to it. Believe in Boston, indeed.

14 January 2009


I've just learned that the grinning food goddess Rachael Ray (a k a "The Joker") has lent her name to a line of pet food called Nutrish. Now, please excuse me while I run to the WC and vomish.

12 January 2009


A few days ago I stopped into Staples to pick up a 2009 blotter calendar. It's not for my desk; rather, it hangs on a door in our kitchen, and we use it to keep track of things like the recycling schedule, when the dog needs her heartworm and flea/tick meds, our haircut appointments, and other general household stuff. I like using one of these because it's cheap (less than $5), easy to read, and has lots of space.

In order to make it an easy errand on my way home from work, I went to the store on Winter Street in Downtown Crossing. The in-town Staples stores tend to be small and sort of lame (the one on Park Drive is much bigger, but it's somewhat out of the way), but this is a pretty basic item so I figured they'd have it, and they did.

I took it to the counter to pay. The cashier rang me up, gave me my change, and walked away. She didn't ask me if I wanted a bag, but the calendar is 17" x 22" so I figured she'd gone to get one in a larger size. But she didn't come back at all; instead she busied herself with some other task at the far end of the counter.

There was another cashier down the counter a bit who was momentarily free, so I stepped down to him and held up the calendar. "Do you have a bag for this, please?" He looked at me and, with a completely straight face, said, "No. If you want me to fold it in half, I could fit it in a bag."

I was at a loss for words. I completely didn't know how to respond. First, I couldn't believe he was serious. Second, I couldn't believe that Staples didn't have any bags large enough to hold the calendar. There are plenty of other items in the store that are larger than a standard-size plastic shopping bag, and when I'd bought a calendar last year I was given a large bag. It crossed my mind that maybe they're trying to get by without larger bags in order to save a few bucks.

This experience wouldn't have bothered me so much, but since this store is downtown, I suspect that the majority of people shopping there are either on foot or taking the T. I had to go get on the T at rush hour and make it the rest of the way home with this large, awkward thing under my arm, trying not to hit other passengers with it and hoping it wouldn't get bent.

Well, Staples can get bent. I sent an email to customer service about it, but I've heard nothing in return. Consequently, this reiterates and reaffirms my hatred of Staples, which I mentioned last February. From now on, I'm going to avoid shopping there if at all possible.

08 January 2009

Orange Crush

So, did everyone have a fun time on the Orange Line this morning? Yeah, this one was special. I almost want to suggest that we should be thanking the MBTA for providing us with so much entertainment value, except that, as a transit agency, it's their job to get us where we need to go, not make us laugh (or, for that matter, cry, which I'm sure plenty of people wanted to to today).

I signed up for the T-Alerts program when it was first offered as a pilot test program in late 2007. I think it's one of the smartest moves the T has ever made, and generally it works as it's supposed to. Every weekday morning I check my email right around 7 AM, just as I'm having my first sip of coffee, to see if there's any weirdness going on with either the Orange Line or the bus route I take into Wellington. There have been one or two occasions when the Orange Line was either running with a delay or not at all, and I was able to make an end run around the problem by taking an express bus that runs into downtown via 93. But this involves a ten-minute walk in the opposite direction, so it's best decided upon before leaving the house.

This morning I learned that due to that old wintertime favorite, a "switch problem at Wellington," the Orange Line was "experiencing 20-25 min delays between Oak Grove and Forest Hills." Wait a sec, that's the whole line! Eesh. The alert also noted that this situation had been going on for over an hour (as of the time I was reading it) and that I should "seek alternate transportation to avoid delay." Hmm, that didn't sound good.

Usually I try to check again just before I'm ready to leave the house, to see if problems have been resolved, or if anything new has popped up. The alert was still on and hadn't been updated, but I naively thought, it's been two hours, they must have fixed it by now and just haven't gotten around to posting the update yet. Considering it was again very icy out this morning, I opted not to take the alternate route into work, and blithely headed to the bus stop hoping everything would be fine. I had to meet with a coworker at 9:30 to go over some changes to our content management system, so I was trying diligently to get to work on time. Silly me.

In retrospect, I got to Wellington at just the right time, because I got to witness some T-foolery the likes of which I've never seen, and hopefully won't see again any time soon. As I came down onto the platform and tried to make my way through a crowd I would conservatively estimate at about 500 fellow commuters, the PA told us that a train would soon be coming in on the northbound platform, but from the opposite direction, and that it would be reversing direction and going back up to Oak Grove, and that the next train after that would be going inbound.

As the train came into the station, everyone noticed that it was pretty full, which didn't make a ton of sense if it had come from Malden and was to head back that way. The doors opened, a few people got on, and the train sat for a couple of minutes. The PA announcer came on and said that he had been mistaken, and this train was in fact heading into Boston. The people who had boarded got off the train, looking disappointed, and everyone else surged across the platform to try to cram onto it; I stood where I was, not wanting to be crammed.

The train sat for a minute, and people were starting to wonder why it didn't go on its way. Then the PA announced that this train WAS going back to Oak Grove after all. Everyone oozed grumpily back out of the train and onto the platform, including all those who had been on the train to begin with, and shortly after a second, empty train came in on the opposite platform, again from the "wrong" direction. The PA announced that THIS train was the one going into Boston, and everyone oozed onto that one. I continued to wait and observe, and both trains continued to sit.

After a minute or two the PA guy, who by this point was probably starting to really hate his day, informed us that BOTH trains would be going into Boston (which, to the T's credit, probably made the most sense in terms of serving the riders' needs at that moment). At this point, the original train had only those few poor folks on it who were just trying to get to Malden or Oak Grove. For the second time in less than ten minutes, they had to exit the train and wait for the rest of us to get on our way. But this was actually better for me, because I happened to be standing a bit closer to the first train, so I scooted inside and grabbed a seat.

We were then told that this train would be leaving first, which was another small victory, so to speak. Miraculously, we were underway soon after. The rest of my commute passed without incident, and I was able to send an email to my coworker letting him know that I would be late.

Wow. As an observer, this was a glorious, marvelous little piece of human theater. I can't imagine being provided with a better dose of free entertainment before 9 AM. But as a user of the system, this was a pretty epic fail, as the kids say on the intertubes these days. And this sort of thing happens at least once every winter at Wellington, usually when things get cold and icy. Surely there must be some sort of de-icing compound that can be applied to the switches? Or maybe it's worth it to pay someone to stay at the station and operate the switches continuously all night to ensure that they keep working?

The other question that comes to mind is: given the duration of this episode, why didn't the T start running shuttle buses? I know it takes time to round up a bunch of buses and drivers and get them all to where they're needed, but the first alert email I received was time-stamped 5:40 AM, and the situation still hadn't been resolved nearly three hours later. You'd think someone would have decided that enough time had elapsed to call in the substitute service. It's a good thing it wasn't 15 or 20 degrees colder today.

The T is such a paradox. When it works, it actually works pretty well. But when it breaks, oh boy, watch out. I wonder what the ride home will be like...

Update, 5:10 PM: Just got this email: "Orange Line service experiencing 10-15 minute delays due to a disabled train." You can't make this stuff up...

05 January 2009

Two Weeks Off

So, today it was back to work after a two-week holiday break. Getting up this morning wasn't that bad, but the lovely film of ice on every horizontal surface made walking the dog and getting to the bus stop more, um, interesting than usual. (Last night's weather report downplayed the potential for iciness, suggesting it would only be an inconvenience for those located beyond 128.)

For the record, I fell only once, and the dog helped mitigate it somewhat by pulling away from me on her leash, thus providing a sort of counterweight to my descending mass. I don't know how the poor thing remained upright; lower center of gravity, I guess. Needless to say, it was a short walk.

This morning's other bit of fun was getting the Christmas tree outside for pickup. I had finished undecorating it last night, but by then the Mrs. had gone to sleep, and I didn't want to risk disturbing her or stepping on the dog, who has a tendency to get underfoot at the wrong times and is quite adept at sneaking up on us undetected. As it turned out, doing it this morning was the better idea, in spite of the ice. I left the dog to contemplate her breakfast in her crate, so she was out of harm's way, and it took only about 90 seconds to carry the tree outside, dislodge it from its stand, and drop it by the curb.

Two weeks isn't really that much time to be away from work, but it's long enough to pull you out of the rhythm of your typical daily routine, and definitely long enough to get comfortable with the idea of not having a daily routine. Having had a few periods of extended unemployment in my life, I can assure any of you that haven't had the pleasure that not working is just about the best thing ever, except for that pesky little issue of not making any money.

Many times I've heard people say things like, "I couldn't stand not working. I'd get so bored I wouldn't know what to do with myself." This never happened to me, not even once. It seemed like I always had something that needed to be done, whether it was household chores or an errand. And in the absence of either of those, there are the decades worth of books I've never gotten around to reading and movies I've never seen.

No, the worst thing about not working is going back to work. It's like rebooting a computer, only it takes a while longer to get back to a state of readiness. Consequently, today hasn't been terribly productive, though I did manage to attend my one required weekly status meeting, answer a few emails, and produce some actual work content. I imagine I'll be more or less back up to speed in another day or two. Now, when's our next holiday?