31 December 2010

On to the Next One

I'd hoped to do a nice end-of-year wrap post, but I got distracted and forgot, leaving me only a few minutes before the ball drops.

I'm getting to the point in my life where marking the end of another year brings a tinge of sadness along with the optimism of looking forward to what's to come. I'm not entirely sure why, but it's been there, just below the surface, for the past week or so. I think it's just a part of aging, and the fact that this year was somewhat shittier than others in lots of ways, for lots of people.

But while I felt it was important to note that, I won't be dwelling on it. I'd rather think about the future, plus my life now is better than it's ever been. I hope that's true for all of you as well. Happy new year; I'm sure the best is yet to come.

30 December 2010

North Shore Eats

Trying to get into one of the popular restaurants along route 1 at 7 pm in the midst of school vacation week probably wasn't one of our best ideas. Border Cafe gets pretty crazy, but I've never seen it so mobbed. Kind of makes you wonder why they didn't keep the original location open on the other side of the road to handle all the business.

It was the same story up the road at the new Santarpio's: things were not quite as chaotic there, but we were told the wait would be at least 45 minutes. One of our group suggested a Chinese restaurant on a side road nearby, so we drove over there.

Su Chang's in Peabody is the kind of place you could easily miss if you weren't looking for it. It's in a building that looks to have been a house at some point, and its signage is low-key. It was also busy, but even though there were six of us, we had to wait less than five minutes to be seated.

Some people think Chinese food is Chinese food, but I'm very fussy about it. I wouldn't be telling you about it if I didn't think it was good. The atmosphere is pleasant, the prices are very reasonable, the staff were friendly and joked around with the two children in our group, and an elegant woman who appeared to be the owner stopped by our table to make sure we were enjoying our meal.

(It also happens to be close to the Northshore Mall, making it a good choice for dinner after a shopping expedition.)

28 December 2010


I enjoy a glass or two of wine now and then, but I don't tend to consume a lot of it (my at-home drinking tastes run to the basic, like Narragansett beer). I know even less about champagne, except that you tend to have to spend a lot to find anything good. In the mid-90s I worked a second job on the front-of-house staff at the Huntington Theatre, which included concessions, where I was introduced to, and completely spoiled by, Veuve Clicquot.

This year my family decided to spend Christmas Eve at home, opting to order a bunch of prepared foods from a local market. I thought it would be nice to have some champagne, but I wasn't feeling flush enough to drop $38 on a bottle of VC (that's the price I found at Kappy's). I went to the liquor store one night last week, hoping to find a decent bottle at a decent price.

I browsed the sparkling wine aisle for a couple of minutes, and considered just copping out and grabbing a bottle of Freixenet, but I felt I could do better. Normally the staff at Kappy's are happy to give advice and make suggestions, but the store was very busy and I could not locate anyone free. I went back to the aisle and saw a sign, made by someone at the store, that said "good French bubbly" stuck to the shelf below a bottle called Veuve Moisans.

Technically this wasn't champagne, because it's made in a different part of France, but I reasoned that it was closer to champagne than Spanish sparkling wine, and it also happened to cost less than the Freixenet. I figured I'd give it a try, and if it turned out not to be very good I'd only be out $10, and if it did turn out to be good, I'd have found a relative bargain.

As it turned out, it was really good, and especially impressive given its low price. The label is a similar orange to that of Veuve Clicquot, though it's striped in a darker orange so as not to be too blatant a ripoff. My idea was well received, and we polished off the bottle so quickly I found myself wishing I'd gotten two bottles--which I'll certainly do next year. But for only $10, I almost certainly won't wait for next Christmas to have this very enjoyable sparkling wine again.

PS: In the beer department, this is the only time of year you can pick up Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. It's an IPA with a bit more bite than the regular Sierra, but without any of the spices typically added to "holiday" or "winter" beers. While I enjoy it in bottles, I think it's best experienced on tap, if you have the opportunity.

27 December 2010

Blizzard Notes

We had planned on staying at my mother's house to have Christmas leftovers for dinner last night, but we drove back yesterday morning to get ahead of the storm. We got 18 inches of snow, and of course I couldn't get my snowblower to start. I don't think it was an issue with how hard I was pulling the cord, because I was able to start it last year without any problems.

I managed to deal with the snow by shovel in about two hours, with a little help from, at various points, the Mrs., one of the upstairs folks, and even a next-door neighbor (not the guy I mentioned last week). The guy from upstairs parked his car behind ours last night, which also helped (it cut down on the driveway surface area).

Now I hear it's going to be in the 40s by the end of the week. I'm not complaining, but it is a little strange. The dog is confused; all her favorite spots are covered in huge mounds of snow. I took her out around 10:30 last night, and she managed to accomplish some of what she was supposed to be doing, but she was distracted by the snow and wanted to romp, then after a couple of minutes she realized how cold and windy and nasty it was, and lost interest in anything but getting back inside, not that I blame her.

25 December 2010

This Week in Awesome (12/25/10)

Merry Christmas, everyone. I have a few holiday presents for all of you...

Have yourself a Maury Christmas. (Is That All There Is? via Videogum)

I dig this site out of Switzerland called Data Visualization. (Very Short List)

Top ten time: HitFix's Alan Sepinwall did his year-end TV roundup in a format I like: new shows, returning shows, and an overall top ten.

And at the other end of the spectrum, the Village Voice has a priceless take on the 20 worst songs of the year. Seriously, this is a hilarious must-read. Thank you, Maura Johnston, for the biggest laughs of my week. (via The Awl)

24 December 2010

Locked Out

Yesterday was a trying day, and a new low for me in middle-aged brain malfunction. After I'd gotten the mail, I noticed a couple of pieces were for the upstairs apartment, so I stepped back outside to put them in their box. In doing so I had closed the inner door behind me without undoing the lock. leaving me stuck in the vestibule. It was around 12:30 pm.

One of the upstairs folks was home, but she was playing her stereo, blasting Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" over and over, so she couldn't hear my knocking. I think she must have played it ten or twelve times. When the music finally stopped, I was able to get her attention and her keys, thinking that since our keys to the outside front door are the same, our inner-door keys might be similar enough that I could use it to get in. That idea didn't get far.

I went through their apartment and down the back steps to try the same thing with the inside back door, with the same result. I considered what I should do. I was wearing sweats and slippers, so I wasn't dressed to go outside, and I had no phone and no money on me. I used the neighbor's phone to call the Mrs. and left her a voicemail, hoping she might come home to let me in but figuring she might not be able to get away from work.

Ultimately I spent the afternoon in the basement, looking into boxes that had been placed there when we moved in and sorting through some old letters. My neighbor offered to let me stay in their living room and watch TV, but I wouldn't have been watching TV if I was in my own apartment, and I guess I was still a little paranoid about the whole bug thing.

The Mrs. had said she was going to try not to have to stay late at work, but she didn't make it home until 6:30. She never noticed the voicemail notification on her phone. More than any discomfort or inconvenience (the basement was pretty cold), the whole thing was embarrassing and humiliating, and I really hope I never do anything that stupid again.

22 December 2010

Rarefied Air

I don't have much interest in technical outerwear. It's partly because I'm not an outdoors sort of person, and partly because I don't care for how it looks. So why, then, do I really like this Cloud jacket from technical outerwear company Aether? (By the way, I tried copying that image and pasting it in here, but it's so small that it looked terrible.)

In fact, I like many of the jackets in their line. I think a big part of it is the minimalism of the designs. A lot of outdoor gear is terribly overdone in appearance, with color blocking, pockets on top of pockets, extraneous zippers, gaudy logos--basically everything I hate in a garment. The Aether jackets are distinctive because they are pared down to the essentials. And most of them are available in black or at least gray, which suits someone like me whose outdoor time involves navigating the concrete jungle.

But damn, this stuff is expensive. That Cloud jacket is $625--ouch! (Sometimes I feel like I'm cursed by having expensive taste.) One of the uninsulated shell jackets is under $250, but even that would be an unjustifiable purchase for me. There's an opportunity here: I'd love to see someone step in and execute some outerwear with the Aether aesthetic at less aethereal (see what I did there?) prices.

21 December 2010

Who Let It Snow?

Good morning! Welcome to the winter break edition of SAR. I'm sitting here enjoying my second cup of coffee (Whole Foods organic Mexican, not that you asked) in my comfy house clothes (i.e., sweats). In fact I've been up since 8, because the dog needed to be walked and emptied, and the sidewalk needed to be cleared.

Snow? Snow! Who knew? Certainly not the meterologists. I read last night that the storm reversed course unexpectedly and that's why nobody had any equipment out to treat the roads, which is why last night's commute was a total clusterfuck. Fine, okay, I realize that weather systems play tricks on all of us from time to time, but really, you guys sit around and look at weather data all day, every day, all the time--it didn't occur to even one of you that this might happen? Get a job.

Anyway, I kind of like getting out and taking care of the snow, especially when there isn't enough of it to be a chore. It's pretty outside, and even an inch of snow makes it feel a little more like Christmas. I also had a nice chat with our next-door neighbor, a very sharp and spry 76-year-old guy who is as good a neighbor as we could ever hope to have.

It's nice that I don't need to be anywhere today, but it's already looking better outside (I think I see the sun) and I still have a few last-minute things to get (my mother reads this now, so I can't blab everything like I did last year), so I'll probably venture out at some point. Maybe I'll go downtown and get a sandwich from Cosi, or maybe even banh mi from Saigon Sandwich.

20 December 2010

Bus Discomfort

Since this is the holiday lead-in week, I thought I might have an easier commute today. There was definitely less traffic, making the bus ride relatively quick and painless, but the T was just as crowded as usual.

I did witness one interesting exchange this morning. When I got on the bus I grabbed a seat near the front, and one of the other people waiting with me at the stop sat across from me. By now you're probably at least passingly familiar with the newer buses that have the low floor from the front to the rear doors, then there are steps up to the seating in the back area.

Just after she sat down, the woman turned toward the back of the bus, because someone she knew who was already on the bus was calling to her. She started to stand up but hesitated, looked toward where her friend was sitting up in the back, and said, "I don't like sitting up there." Her friend came down and sat next to her.

What's the big deal? I can only speculate, but I know that sometimes I try to avoid having to go to the back of the bus, but only because I'm the impatient type, and the back area is a bottleneck and it takes a long time to get out when the bus reaches the station, which can cause you to miss a train. Some people are just bustrophobic (coined!), and there aren't as many windows back there. Or it could have been something else entirely.

Anyway, today's my last work day of the year. Getting a break from commuting is about as nice as getting a break from working.

18 December 2010

This Week in Awesome (12/18/10)

It was a pretty good week for internet stuff. Some of it's holiday-themed, some of it isn't...

Defaced is a site that collects instances of prankage that probably wouldn't seem funny if they weren't clever. (Thrillist via Racked)

Here's the undisputed winner of the "creepiest Christmas sweater" contest. (Etsy via The Hairpin)

A couple of good clips from Funny or Die this week: first, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly channel David Bowie and Bing Crosby in a version of their famous Christmas duet that's equal parts homage and spoof.

Then Christina Applegate and friends demonstrate the fitness value of pole dancing for a certain subset of the population.

Finally, the Museum of the City of New York posted a trove of vintage photographs online. (Racked)

Not wanting to disrespect our own fair city, I looked for similar collections. I know Universal Hub has linked to various online archives in the past, but searching the site didn't yield what I was trying to find. A google search turned up this collection of links via BU; it includes links to the Boston Historical Society and the Boston Public Library's Flickr stream, among many others, so that should at least get us started.

17 December 2010

Friday Reading

Technically I work in academia, though our publishing products are geared toward consumers. Therefore we are bound to a certain degree to the academic calendar, which means that most of the following two weeks will be paid time off. Officially our break starts on the 23rd, but I'm taking off a couple of extra days before that.

However, this means that a lot of stuff has to get done ahead of time to compensate for not being here for almost two weeks. So in addition to finishing my monthly deadline stuff this week, I've had to set up emails that will go out to subscribers next week and the week after, deal with a formatting problem in one of the emails, and make arrangements for how a few other small things will get done while I'm not here. (Short answer: I'll be doing them from home.)

Anyway, what all this means is that I don't really have anything for you today, but I can point you in the direction of something you may or may not find interesting, depending on your point of view. Fifty years ago yesterday, two planes collided over Staten Island; one landed there, in an unused army field; the other crashed into an intersection in Brooklyn. The New York Times has been doing look-back coverage all this week on their City Room blog. (It's in reverse order; the posts from the beginning of the week are at the bottom of the page at this link.)

16 December 2010

Bargain Alert: David Chu at Ocean State Job Lot

We popped over to our local Job Lot this evening for a few odds and ends. Among the holiday decorations, fleece jackets, and Antonio Banderas cologne gift sets, there was a mannequin done up in a sportcoat and dress shirt next to a sign that said "David Chu Clothing and Sportswear 90% Off," with an arrow and--I am not making this up--stick-on footprints on the floor leading the way to a side room I hadn't even noticed on our previous visit.

The room, maybe the size of a small mall store space, was filled with men's clothing. For those of you who may not know, David Chu is the guy who started Nautica back in the '80s, but he sold the company several years ago and started another under his own name. The clothes are generally fairly conservative, with a few touches of color and personality here and there, but the fabrics are quite nice and the tailored clothing is well made.

The Job Lot stash had a bit of everything: dress and casual shirts, pants, a few knits, ties, shorts, a small group of suits, and lots and lots of sportcoats. It's almost like a sample sale, and there is a lot of stock in just about every size. All the suits and sportcoats are made in Italy, and it's a decent bet that a lot of the fabrics originate there too.

The original prices on the tailored items range from around $900-$1200, so I'm sure you can do the math and figure out the Job Lot pricing, which is a pretty good deal. Casual shirts are priced at $10, as were some khakis, though those seemed to come only in sizes 30 and 32. Ties are also $10. Boxed dress shirts are $20 to $25. There are also American-made dark blue jeans for $22.50. (Would someone really have paid $225 for those jeans in a fancy store? I had to wonder.)

I have no idea whether or not any other Job Lot locations have this merchandise (this was at the new Medford store); it might be worth a phone call to find out. Some of the shirts and ties are made in China, but none of it is typical low-grade department store stuff. Whether you're still doing holiday shopping for a man in your life, or just want to pick up some work clothes for yourself, this sale is worth checking out.

15 December 2010

Suiting Up

This evening is our work party, a low-key affair at a pub across the street from our office, the same place we've held it for the past four years. This year we were encouraged to bring something either homemade or regifted for our Yankee swap (and I've heard hints that there will be some additional wrinkles to the swap rules this time). So I decided to keep the item I'd originally bought for the swap, and chose to regift a book I'd bought a few months back.

Typically I make an effort to dress up for the holiday party, mainly because it's an excuse to do so, and because my work outfits, while always put together, are distinctly casual. Last night I went down to the basement "closet annex" to pick out something to wear. My dress clothing resides in a pop-up wardrobe down there, since I use it rarely and we don't have much closet space in our bedroom. I also moved my dress shirts downstairs earlier this year, onto a rolling rack that I also use to hang-dry things I don't want to put in the dryer.

I came across a deep blue dress shirt with very fine white stripes that I bought at Lord & Taylor a long time back, maybe nine or ten years ago. I've always liked it, and I remembered that I wore it out to a Christmas Eve dinner some years back (when the various parts of my extended family were still speaking to one another and we all went out to dinner together). At that time I wore it with a solid silver tie and a dark, dark charcoal suit.

I think I still have that suit, but I have some doubt that the pants would still fit, so I quickly assembled a similar outfit, substituting my favorite pair of charcoal wool twill dress pants (the fabric is a bit more substantial, nice on a frigid day like today) and an all-purpose charcoal suit jacket that I got at the Gap about 15 years ago for $40, and which miraculously still fits me quite well.

Interestingly, I noticed that the dress shirt was made in the USA. I didn't remember ever noticing its origin before, but it prompted me to think about how much Lord & Taylor has changed over the past decade. I used to shop there all the time and frequently found good stuff on sale. Now I hardly ever go there, and when I do I'm invariably unimpressed by what they're offering. The company has had its ups and downs of late, and has changed its merchandise focus to try to lure younger customers, and I think that's where they've lost me: all the stuff I liked that they no longer carry fell in the category of "stuff younger guys wouldn't like." Oh well.

Oh, and here's a tip: you may have noticed that your hands get dry this time of year, and when you go to tie a tie, the tiny little points of dry skin catch on the silk. But if you put a little moisturizer on your hands first, and give it a couple of minutes to be absorbed, it will make the tie tying easier.

14 December 2010

Shades of Gray

Still looking for a gift for someone? I'd filed away this item some time ago, and today seems like as good a day as any to mention it.

Randolph Engineering makes high-quality sunglasses right down the road in Randolph, MA. They are mainly known for their aviator and shooting styles, but their P3 style caught my eye because of the round lenses. The P3 was originally available only in gold, but now there's a newer version (called, logically, the New P3) that's available in either gold or chrome, with slightly wider lenses and the option of traditional "skull" temples instead of the cable versions, which hook all the way around your ears.

These are quality eyewear products that are made right here in Massachusetts and sold at reasonable prices (cheaper than Ray-Bans, at any rate). You can also purchase just the frames from Randolph for prescription lens applications.

13 December 2010

Expense Report #36

Have you ever lost track of how much you had in your bank account? I haven't balanced my checkbook in five years or so, but thanks to online account access I always know exactly how much is in my account, except for those rare moments when I forget to check for a couple of days.

I'd paid my rent, I'd paid my credit card bill, I'd paid the cell phone bill, but I didn't think about how much was left. Friday evening I went to an ATM and was told I couldn't have that $100 I wanted because I didn't have funds in my account. Turned out I had $54 left in there, and another week until the next payday. Oops. At least I was able to take out $20 to pay for the meal and drinks I was about to have.

Sometimes I have small stashes of cash around the house, but not this time. I had two scratch tickets with $5 prizes in my bag, and enough stored on my ID cash card to get coffee from the cafeteria each morning for the rest of this week. The hospital cafeteria finally started taking credit cards a few months back, so that's how I paid for my lunch today.

I had tried to do the right thing and had paid more toward my credit card balance than I usually do, but in doing so I carelessly left myself depleted for almost a week. And I'm getting a little old to be running out of money between paychecks; I need to get serious about paying off this balance.

11 December 2010

This Week in Awesome (12/11/10)

TWiA is back at full strength. I'm sure you're all so relieved...

Comedians spoof "We Are The World" by commemorating its 25-3/4 anniversary. (Funny or Die via Basket of Kisses, because Mad Men's Rich Sommer is in it)

A collection of some of the cheesiest (and most illogical, and most superfluous) movie/TV car explosions. One could argue that, by extrapolation, this constitutes a list of some very cheesy movies, and one would be correct. (Jalopnik)

Video of a crazy person doing something pretty high on the "don't try this yourself" list. (BuzzFeed via Gizmodo)

A handy guide for how to describe your furniture when attempting to sell it on craigslist. (Flickr via The Daily What)

Let's close this week's edition with an interesting piece about the hidden workings of the Discovery Channel show Cash Cab, revealed by a former contestant. (tv.com)

09 December 2010

Set Your DVR

AMC has had a pretty good track record in choosing original series over the past several years. Rubicon did not receive a renewal, but otherwise the channel has been extremely successful in programming shows that garner critical acclaim, win shelves full of awards, and tap into the cultural zeitgeist in a particular way. I opted not to watch The Walking Dead because I'm just not into zombie stuff, but it drew very impressive ratings for a cable show, and you already know how I feel about Mad Men.

Earlier this year I wrote about how much I've enjoyed AMC's other original show Breaking Bad. In a departure from the scheduling strategy AMC has followed in past years, season four will not air until some time this summer. I don't know why they have chosen to do this, but in the meantime, word arrives from the channel (via Alan Sepinwall at HitFix) that it will be rerunning seasons one through three during the late night hours of Wednesday nights/Thursday mornings starting next week.

There will be two episodes per week, but they will not be on at the same time each week, because they will be shown after whatever movies AMC is showing that night, and the running times vary. If you're interested in catching up with the show, the best thing to do is create a season pass on your DVR so it will find and record the episodes each week. Otherwise you'd have to search for each week's showings manually, which can certainly be done but requires more effort and is subject to bouts of forgetfulness (take it from me).

Addendum: Huge apologies, I screwed up. When I read the post on HitFix, I didn't realize that it had been posted last Friday, so the words "next week" were referring to this week. So yeah, episodes 1 and 2 of season one were shown last night. I know you can watch the first episode on the AMC site here, and you can get the second episode from iTunes for a couple of bucks.

08 December 2010

Cubicle Hopping

When my office relocated to new space within the building three and a half years ago, there were both advantages and disadvantages to the physical space and my location in it. I was in an isolated spot at the far end of the office from the other people I worked with most closely, but on the other hand, no one was around to pay any attention to my comings and goings, or to what I did all day.

We've had several staff changes during this past year, probably more so than any other during the time I've worked there. But in fact, most of those changes involved existing employees, including me, shifting to new tasks and responsibilities, so in the end we have one less person overall. This allowed one person to move from a cubicle to an office (sadly, not me).

More recently, the production department decided to open up its work area from separate cubicles to one large, open uber-cube. These two changes left two open cubicles adjacent to the production folks, which is where I was originally supposed to be located in the office. People started asking me if I was moving down to that area, so I figured I should at least consider it.

I went and had a look at the new configuration. The setup of the uber-cube actually took away a small amount of space from each of the two adjacent cubes, but for me it was never about how much space I would have. In this space I would have more opportunities to interact with my coworkers; before, because I was so far away, I could go a whole week without seeing any of them.

I had planned to move my stuff last Friday, but needed to leave early to finish prepping for our bug treatment, so I moved Monday afternoon. One thing I hadn't thought about: I'm now a bit closer to a window, but where I was before the window was deeply recessed, so the sun never made it in anyway. The window near my new spot is not nearly as recessed, plus I'm on a different side of the building, so the sun actually shines in during the afternoon.

And since there are more people around where I sit now, and I am slightly more exposed, it forces me to stay more focused on my work, which, you know, sure I have mixed feelings about it, but I have more to do now on a daily basis anyway, so ultimately I'm better off.

Today the production crew had a little open house to show off their new space. As they were starting to decorate, I offered my strand of colored lights, which I was about to use to decorate my own cubicle. By joining the strands, there were enough lights to drape from the ceiling around the whole area, which turned out to be much more festive. And people stopping by their area had to pass by my new spot, so I got a few visitors as well.

07 December 2010

Expense Report #35

I did make two discretionary purchases last week, but in both cases I combined multiple discounts. First, I've been pondering a pair of blucher mocs from L.L. Bean for some time now. I had a pair of them about 20 years ago, and I'm not sure what happened to them, but I suspect that since my tastes went through several changes before coming back around more or less to where I started in high school 30-some years ago, I probably got rid of them due to lack of use.

For $69, these are very reasonably priced shoes to start with. I had received an email from Bean offering 15% off any order for Bean Visa card holders, of which I am one. I was also able to apply one of my $10 reward credits (earned by using the card), bringing the total below $50. And as in years past, Bean is offering everyone free shipping during the holiday season (with the Visa card, I get free shipping anyway). So it was too good a deal to pass up. The soles of these shoes are a bit thin to wear in weather like today's, but otherwise they are comfortable and, in my opinion, better made than most of the shoes Bean is offering these days.

The other purchase was from J. Crew. Last week they were offering 25% of all sweaters. I looked around the site, but didn't see anything immediately compelling. But then on Wednesday morning they announced 30% off one order, which also applied to the sweater sale, bringing the total discount on sweaters down to just short of 50%. (As I mentioned the other day, that's a number more likely to get my attention.) That's about as good a discount as you are likely to see from J. Crew, short of a multiple-markdown clearance item in the back of a store.

But I wasn't done yet: I had a $25 J. Crew reward card that needed to be used by December 15th, so I purchased this cashmere "sweatshirt" for around $100, which is roughly 40% of its normal asking price, and a fine deal indeed.

After this, I really do need to stop buying myself clothing and shoes for a while, and focus on trying to sell some of the stuff that doesn't fit or otherwise hasn't worked out for me.

(By the way, J. Crew is offering a similar deal this week on outerwear.)

06 December 2010

The Scourge: Aftermath

It was a long, exhausting week, but at least it's over. The preparations left our apartment in near-total disarray; it's a lot like those last couple of weeks when you're getting ready to move. And since the pest control folks will be back this Saturday to inspect and, if deemed necessary, apply additional treatment, we can't quite put things back to normal yet.

If there is anything that can be considered "good" about this sort of situation, it's that it became an opportunity for us to evaluate our stuff in a way that typically only happens when you're preparing to move. We've done some culling and decluttering, and we will continue to do so during this week, and then hopefully we'll be able to put everything back together again.

I've also decided that, after all this stress and work, I'm just not going to want to deal with a tree this year. I'll pick up a wreath for the front door, and I'll be hanging my cubicle lights at work tomorrow, and that's as festive as I feel like getting.

04 December 2010

This Week in Awesome (12/4/10)

I'm not at home this weekend, but I hate the thought of leaving you all hanging, so please try to find some amusement in this compilation of utterly insane traffic-camera footage from China. Personally, I'm mentally piping in the Benny Hill theme music while I watch, but feel free to supply your own choice. (Jalopnik)

03 December 2010

A Deal and a Gift Idea

Let me just throw these two bits at you before I disappear down the rabbit hole for the weekend:

Lands' End is offering 40% off one item, with free shipping if you spend at least $75. If you are on their email list, you see offers of 20, 25, and 30 percent off fairly regularly. But 40% discounts are not an everyday thing from any retailer. This is an excellent opportunity to pick up a utilitarian piece of outerwear to keep you warm and dry this winter, or maybe something a bit more old-school (and more stylish), like this pea coat (the gray is a nice change from the typical navy). This deal ends tonight at midnight Central time.

When we were in New York a few weeks ago, we saw a clever set of folding, portable iPod speakers from Muji at the Museum of Modern Art's shop. The Mrs. thought they would be nice to use in her office at work, because she isn't allowed to have mp3s on her work computer. But not surprisingly, they sounded terrible. (That isn't meant as a knock on Muji, whose stuff is generally cool and useful and decently made.)

After we got back I did a little research and found a much better option: this little orb from ThinkGeek pops open into a speaker with surprisingly rich and amply loud sound, and it costs less than the Muji speakers too. It comes with a USB cable, which you connect to your computer to charge the built-in battery, and even a carrying pouch.

02 December 2010

The Scourge Adjacent

You may have noticed that I've been slightly less bloggish this week. There are two main reasons for this. First, my workplace has an annual meeting each year around this time, and this year we had to form groups several weeks before the meeting and prepare a presentation, so I was partly preoccupied by that.

But the bigger reason has to do with the upstairs neighbors. In August one of them moved out, leaving behind a special gift we just learned about this Monday: his bedbug-infested mattress. The upper apartment is on two floors; half the third floor is a bedroom, and the other half is used as an attic space. When the guy left, he tossed his mattress into the attic part, and no one knew about it until last Friday, when someone else attempted to move into the third-floor bedroom. She went into the attic and saw the mattress, and promptly freaked out, completely justifiably. (It probably goes without saying that she won't be moving in after all.)

On Tuesday morning a pest control professional inspected the house and confirmed the presence of the bugs. He also confirmed that our apartment doesn't have any, which was a huge relief, but it won't stay that way unless they treat the whole house as soon as possible. That's going to happen on Saturday.

The prep involves lots and lots of laundry, which then has to be stored in plastic bags. As we do it, we're leaving the bags down in the basement. Everything has to come out of our dresser drawers, the whole place has to be vacuumed, we have to buy a protective mattress cover to use after the treatment, all the furniture has to be moved out away from the walls, and all the switch and outlet plates have to be unscrewed from the walls, so the insecticide can get inside. We have to be away from the apartment for eight hours, but we're going to go stay at my mother's overnight and return the next day.

We're more than a bit shell-shocked by all this, but we're trying to deal with it. I would advise all of you to be vigilant and do what you can to protect yourselves.

01 December 2010

Deal Alert (With Conditions)

Attention J. Crew fans: there's currently an excellent deal on all sweaters, 25% off both online and in stores. But if you happen to have a J. Crew credit card, the deal gets a lot better: this morning I received an email with a code for an extra 30% off one order when using your card, online only (and free shipping if you spend $150).

What really sweetens this offer is that you can stack it on top of the 25% off sweaters, meaning one of their cashmere sweaters, which normally sells for $188 (too much, I know) can be had for around $99, according to my trusty calculator--but only if you have a J. Crew card. And if you happen to have any rewards cards (which expire 12/15), you can make a great deal fairly stupendous.

Still, this is probably the best deal you're going to see from the Crew this season. But hurry--the 25% off part ends tonight.

30 November 2010

Expense Report #34

I stuck to it last week, buying only a couple of very inexpensive household items--and using PayPal credit to do so. But it isn't going to last forever, especially with all the deals around...

29 November 2010

He Brought The Funny

There's a nice tribute to the TV work of Leslie Nielsen, who passed away over the weekend, by Alan Sepinwall over at HitFix.

27 November 2010

This Week in Awesome (11/27/10)

Hope everyone is having a nice holiday weekend. I trust you're not out partaking in the holiday shopping madness, because you are all smart people with better things to do, and savvy enough to know there are easier ways to score good deals.

I know it's hard to believe, but a good deal of the advertising of decades past would be considered highly offensive today. Would you like to see some examples? (Very Short List via Racked)

Here's a hilariously awful current ad (which is for a web site but looks like a cheesy local TV ad) for a knife store that hopefully will be considered highly offensive by a future generation. (Videogum)

The artist Chris Burden has built a kinetic sculpture that sends hundreds of diecast toy cars cycling around various tracks. If you live in the Los Angeles area, you will be able to see this in person at LACMA once the installation is completed. (Autoblog)

And finally, now that Thanksgiving has passed, we can officially and guiltlessly welcome the Christmas season with another ambitious homeowner's holiday light display programmed to music, though this one has a slightly more, um, esoteric soundtrack. (BoingBoing via Videogum)

24 November 2010

Holiday Plans

Our holiday is going to be a bit different this year. Last year, the Mrs. had to work, so I took the train to my family's house. She has to work again this year, and due to some other staffing issues, she was asked if she could work a double shift. It's not like a regular work day anyway, it's more like someone just has to be present and conscious.

The double shift means I can't go to RI by myself again, because there wouldn't be anyone here to take care of the dog's needs. So we asked my mother if she would consider moving dinner to Friday. She agreed willingly, and as it turns out, my brother, who is a restaurant manager, has to work the closing shift Thursday night, so he would have had to leave in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner anyway.

So my mother and sister will go out to dinner somewhere tomorrow, and not have turkey. As for me, I'll be enjoying some down time and solitude, watching the football game, and working on some of the other stuff stored on the TiVo that the Mrs. isn't interested in watching. And walking the dog.

23 November 2010

Expense Report #33

Well, I kept my word and didn't buy anything discretionary last week (beer is not optional, a sentiment I believe I've expressed before). And I'm sticking to it this week as well.

Of course, it's now time for holiday shopping, but in recent years most of the family gifts have been in the form of gift cards or certificates, and the purchase of those can be delayed so the expense is absorbed over multiple pay periods.

And the holiday shopping season always results in new temptations that need to be resisted, like this handsome red wool coat from Orvis:
It's a very nice coat, but it's $400, which is steep for this sort of thing. Similar coats from Filson would be between $250 and $300 and made in USA, though they no longer offer them in red. Maybe after the holidays, though Orvis tends to be somewhat less than generous with sales and markdowns.

22 November 2010


I was at a volunteer event this evening that had a DJ. The music was primarily to keep people motivated, so it was a bit of everything--70s, 80s, current stuff, rock, pop, soul, even a little country.

The person in charge of my group asked me at one point how I was doing. I replied, "I had hoped I would never have to actually hear a Justin Bieber song, but otherwise I'm fine."

After 8 PM the DJ started to string together some rather unusual segues. She went from "Boom Boom Pow" to "Dueling Banjos," which officially qualifies as the most batshit segue I have ever heard. A short time later she attempted to challenge that with a transition from Barry White's "You're The First, The Last, My Everything" to "The Chicken Dance," but since the latter is somewhat common at weddings, I decided that pairing of songs could actually occur somewhere else.

Fortunately I left before being subjected to any further sonic cataclysms.

21 November 2010

This Week in Awesome (11/20/10)

It's possible that at some point I may get back to posting these on Saturdays, but I'm not making any promises...

The web site Bnter (don't look at me, I don't know how it's supposed to be pronounced) takes text-message conversation submissions and turns the best ones into comics. (UrbanDaddy)

If Jeff Goldblum and Biz Markie doing a duet of Biz's minor classic "Just A Friend" on Jimmy Fallon doesn't qualify as awesome, then I'll just have to stop doing this. (New York Times Artsbeat blog via Videogum)

The Daily Show did an excellent piece on John McCain's hypocrisy regarding the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and in the process also did a clever mock version of an It Gets Better video. Just watch it and everything will make sense. Well, not everything. (Splitsider)

This week's 30 Rock featured a web site called Pronouncify that turned typed text into spoken words. It looks like NBC went ahead and made it into a real thing, but it still exists within the 30 Rock site, and they want you to sign up for some reason, so proceed with caution.

Eddie's (Sorta, Kinda, Maybe) Back?

(TWiA will appear later, but I want to mention a sale opportunity.)

For the past five years or so, I have paid very little attention to what Eddie Bauer has been doing. They used to be one of my second-tier stores, where I could usually pick up one or two items each season. But they always seemed to be charging more for their merchandise than I thought it was worth, and they tended to be slow and stingy with the sales. Also, their offerings didn't seem to change from season to season and year to year. Everything was just stiflingly boring, and it made me think of guys who don't care about style who have their significant others choose their clothes for them.

EB further disingratiated themselves to me last fall when I attempted to buy a pair of loafers. I ordered an 11 wide, and those were too tight. I returned them and ordered an 11.5 wide, and those were too tight. At that point I had to wonder, if I have to go up to a 12 to get a shoe that fits, did I really want those shoes? I did not.

Also, EB charges a $3 handling fee per order, something I consider highly offensive as a consumer, and borderline outrageous in this era of common free shipping. They are the only online/catalog retailer I am aware of that currently has a policy like this, and if all those other retailers have figured out how to work the cost of handling orders into their pricing, why can't Bauer?

So why am I even talking about them? Because I was looking through some of their fall offerings, just out of curiosity because it had been a while since I'd bothered to notice, and saw that they have a few items this season that are made in USA. I guess they started doing a "heritage" line last year, like everyone else, though I'll acknowledge that they probably have more right to make a claim to their brand's heritage than many of their competitors.

These field pants look pretty nice (though I have no idea how they fit). They are priced at $79, which is the same as similar pants from Orvis that are imported (which probably means made in China, though I don't know for sure); the pants they have that are made in USA are close to $200. There are other Bauer pants at higher price points, like these at $99 and these at $149, but these are nicer pants in heftier, less common fabrics like moleskin or cavalry twill, so you're not going to find these at your average mall department store.

Better still, if you are interested in any of these items, Eddie Bauer is offering 25% off any order, plus free shipping on orders of at least $50. I think you have to sign up for their rewards program, but it could be worth it. You can also take advantage of this offer at EB stores, though I sort of doubt they are carrying any of the nicer heritage items in-store. This deal ends tomorrow, though, so if you're interested, don't procrastinate. But given the economy, I wouldn't be surprised to see them offer a similar discount again this season, and if they do I'll pass along the info.

19 November 2010

TV Notes

It's two months into the TV season, and the networks are already shuffling their lineups and touting new shows that will start premiering in January. (I wish the big networks would just embrace the idea of two seasons, fall-to-spring and spring-to-fall, but no one's going to listen to me.) NBC is going to try running three full hours of comedies on Thursday nights, which strikes me as perhaps a bit of overkill, but at least it means Parks and Recreation will be back on come January.

Of the shows that premiered this September, I've only been watching a couple. I tried to get into The Event; I think I watched four episodes before I decided it was just trying too hard to be another Lost, and that I didn't care about anything that was happening. I've been recording Blue Bloods, the NYPD family drama on CBS, but I'm several episodes behind. I've been watching the new Hawaii Five-O as popcorn TV, but I don't know if or how long I'll stick with it.

The one new show I really like is Raising Hope, a comedy about a young guy who has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be a serial killer, who is put in jail where she learns she is pregnant, gives birth, and is executed. The guy, who lives with his parents, gets custody of the baby and suddenly has to deal with parenthood. Did I mention it's a comedy? It's a bit loopy, but it's also very warm and sweet and quite funny.

This Sunday night, the US version of Top Gear has its premiere on the History Channel, and I'm going to recommend you at least check it out. I've seen only a short clip, but everything I've heard and read about the show leads me to think it's going to be worth watching, though I've also read that it takes a few episodes for the show to jell. It will never top the original, but there's nothing wrong with having our own version.

17 November 2010

The Low End Theory

The retail gods have seen fit to bestow an Ocean State Job Lot ("Home of Adventure Shopping ™") upon my fair city. It's literally right down the street, where Stop & Shop used to be before they opened a new, bigger store adjacent to the old one two years ago. The building has been vacant since, so I guess it's good for the strip mall operator too.

There had been rumors that OSJL was going to open in Somerville, on Broadway at the bottom of Winter Hill where the crappy old Star was (and coincidentally, also right near where we used to live). But that space is only about a quarter of the size of the location they ended up taking over here in Medford.

Job Lot, as my mother calls it, is not for everyone, but it serves a purpose. Think of it as a modern-day equivalent of a five-and-dime. (If you don't know what that means, ask one of your grandparents.) I'd say it's a step or two up from Building 19 on the niceness scale. That's not saying much, I know, but the "charm" of the 19's veneer of grime wears thin quickly.

Sometimes you just need a household item quickly, cheaply, and simply. We got our dog's leash there; it's a double-thickness length of nylon, so it's extremely durable. I think it was $6. In fact, they have a large selection of pet supplies at very reasonable prices, but I wouldn't buy the dog food they sell.

They also have hardware, bedding, drugstore items, packaged food, clothing, and so on. Maybe you've driven past one of their stores many times and wondered about it, but never went in. Maybe next time, you should stop and check it out. You might find something good, and cheap.

16 November 2010

Expense Report #32

I imagine (some of) you want to know what I bought in New York. I didn't buy much, really. The obligatory visit to Uniqlo yielded a couple of gray undershirts (even though I finally got that situation straightened out, it never hurts to have a couple of extras) and, what do you know, a red oxford-cloth shirt very much like the gray one I bought there last year (at the time I was hoping they would make them in additional colors, but I thought red was too much to hope for).

The best part about this is that it will replace the lesser-quality Chaps shirt I bought at around the same time that has the awful embroidery on the pocket, so I no longer have to worry about covering it up. The shirt was $20; the undershirts were $5 each.

[Side note: Broadway in SoHo has really turned into a horrible mall-circus; now that there's Forever 21 and Hollister and all these other crap stores that are in pretty much every single mall in the US, the crowds are borderline unmanageable. (And let's not even go into why people would bother to shop at the same stores they can shop in at home.) But away from Broadway, even just one street parallel, SoHo can still be quite pleasant, even charming. Uniqlo is prepping a gigantic (seriously, around 90,000 square feet) second location on Fifth Avenue around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art, and after that opens I probably won't bother with the SoHo store anymore.]

I made just one other purchase, but it was a substantial one. Last year Wolverine introduced a line of "1000 Mile" boots based on work boot styles from their archives. It's a blatant ploy to cash in on their workwear heritage, but the boots are really nice, especially the model that is made in the United States using Horween leather (which is produced in Chicago).

I'd been thinking about getting a pair of Red Wing Gentleman Traveler boots (another brand parlaying its heritage into sales to the Americana/workwear crowd), but I found from reading comments and forum posts that several people feel they tend to run narrow, which eliminated them from consideration. I'm not a big fan of the Alden "Indy" boots (I don't like the shape of the toe or the moc styling) so those were out too. The 1000 Mile boots came across to me as just a bit more sophisticated than either of those, and lend themselves to being dressed up somewhat.

The "1000 Mile Original" boots (the ones I was interested in) are allegedly available in wide width, but the few online sites that carry them had only medium. Since I knew I was going to be in New York, I decided to visit the genteel Greenwich Village men's shoe store Leffot that I had read about in the New York Times's "Critical Shopper" feature a couple of months ago. Leffot carries the boots, so I knew I could try them on.

Unfortunately they didn't have any of the boots in wide (calling into question, to my mind, whether or not they actually exist), but the boots are cut rather generously in width and have a fairly high, roomy toe box, so it turned out not to matter. One turn around the store and I was sold on them. And besides being superbly comfortable, they smell fantastic. (Of course, the whole store smelled fantastic.) Until I can get around to treating them with Obenauf's, I'm going to wait to wear them when I know it's not going to rain.

[Edit: The Shoe Mart has some in wide, but in very limited sizes, and none at all in rust. There's also a store in San Francisco called On The Fly that seems to have them in wide.]

The boots are available in black, brown, and rust, which is the color I chose. You can see them here.

And yeah, they were expensive. They're the most expensive shoes I've ever bought. But they are made to last, and I will have them a long, long time. So let's call them a "practical indulgence." I won't be buying anything else for a while.

15 November 2010

Last Week in Awesome

As promised...

A cool little time-lapse video from last week's New York Marathon. (Jalopnik)

A site that collects mistakenly auto-corrected text messages caused by overzealous phone software. (Consumerist)

A pretty fascinating (to me, anyway) comparative analysis of the quantity and quality of jokes on two sitcoms, Shit My Dad Says and 30 Rock, that air at the same time on competing networks. (Splitsider)

14 November 2010

A Bit Behind

We're still in New York, and I had hoped to post TWiA yesterday, but I haven't had access to a real computer, and dealing with copying and pasting links on my phone is a bit too daunting. Look for it tomorrow evening.

11 November 2010

Rest Easy

It's been two months since we got our new mattress and box spring, and I couldn't be happier with it. I sleep so much better now. For me, the biggest difference is that, below the top couple of inches of memory foam, is a much denser foam that is much more firm and supportive.

What prompted me to think about this was when I was vacuuming the other day and noticed a twinge of back pain. I realized that I had not been waking up with an aching back since we got the new mattress. And if my back does hurt when I get into bed, it feels better by morning. What a great investment.

10 November 2010

Prep Time

It'll be nice to have Thursday off, but we're heading to New York on Friday, so it's not really going to be a day of leisure for me. There's laundry to be done, decisions about what to pack that are contingent on the weather (which is looking like it's going to be really nice), like how many pairs of shoes, what sort of outerwear, that sort of thing. And I need to make those decisions so I can decide which suitcase to use.

09 November 2010

Denim, Full Circle

About a month ago, the Mrs. and I embarked on a serious cleaning and decluttering of our apartment, mainly on weekends when we have enough time to devote to it. It's now cleaner than it's been in a long time, and while the decluttering continues, there has been progress.

As I was putting my summer clothes and shoes into storage in the basement and bringing boots, jackets, and other items upstairs for fall/winter use, I went through everything to determine what I should keep and what I should sell or donate. In the process, I ended up with only a couple of pairs of jeans that were appropriate to wear to work. (I have other jeans that I wear on weekends that I wouldn't wear to the office, for various reasons.)

This raised the question: what jeans should I buy? I'm really liking the olive J. Crew "vintage slim" jeans I got a few months ago, but those were a clearance item; their jeans normally sell for $96 a pair. Plus, J. Crew has shifted production of their jeans from Canada to China, making me even less inclined to buy them.

I'm not the sort who goes out and spends a lot on denim anyway. The whole selvedge denim thing is completely lost on me; the way I understand it, you buy the jeans smaller than your actual waist size, so they start out too tight, but then they stretch out, and you're supposed to wear them as long as possible before washing them, like six months. Huh? The whole thing sounds like a big pain in the ass, and pretty disgusting to boot.

But I digress. Back in my 20s, and well into my 30s, I wore nothing but Levi's. They were cheap, they were well made, you could buy them pretty much anywhere. I remember a point around 1986 or so, thinking that I could not imagine myself wearing any other jeans besides 501s. But Levi's somehow lost my interest in the late '90s. I started wearing relaxed-fit jeans, first the 550, then other brands.

When I heard about the Levi's/Brooks Brothers collaboration, I was intrigued, but I couldn't justify spending $150 on those, even if they are made in the USA. (If they were retailing for under $100, I'd probably go for them.) That said, I've seen them in the store, and they are really nice jeans.

But that got me thinking about Levi's again. One day I took a look at their site, and I was nearly overwhelmed by the variety of styles they now sell. But when I took a good look at the fit measurements and filtered out the low-rise, skinny, boot-cut, loose, and other styles I wouldn't be interested in, what was left was the 501. The rise is just high enough, but not dad-jeans high. The leg opening is just wide enough to fit comfortably over boots, but not so wide that it flops around when you walk.

I ordered a pair, for $37. (Free shipping if you sign up for emails, and of course you then get lots of other offers.) Dark stonewash, dark enough to wear to work, with a hint of the indigo shade they'll fade into over time. When I first put them on, the thighs were tight, but they loosened up a bit after a couple of hours. Otherwise they felt great. I looked in the mirror and realized that they made me look trimmer. For comparison, I put on a pair of the relaxed-fit Arizona jeans I've been wearing for the past few years. They looked awful. So when I went to JCPenney over the weekend to buy more cord jeans, I took another look at the Arizona denim.

Their original fit has a much trimmer silhouette then the relaxed, but they're still not what you'd call skinny, so I thought I would try on a pair. I couldn't button them, but then I realized that was because even though the tag said 36, there was no way they were actually 36 inches around. I could just tell. So I went back out onto the sales floor and got a pair in size 38, and those fit like 36's (I confirmed this at home later with a tape measure), so I bought them. A nice, dark rinsed blue, darker than the new 501s, even darker than my other Arizona jeans.

So I have two new pairs of jeans to wear to work. And I guess those Relaxed Arizona jeans are going to end up going into the weekend pile, or I'll wear them when I have to shovel snow, or something. I'll probably end up buying another pair of 501s at some point. Funny how I'm back to wearing the jeans I was wearing 25 years ago. (Of course, back then I think I was wearing a 30 waist.)

And if anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas, a Brooks Brothers gift card would be great...

PS. J. Crew also had some Levi's 501s done just for them. Those aren't made in the USA either, and they sell for around the same prices as J. Crew's own jeans. But when I was at the mall in Natick over the weekend, the J. Crew store there had the 501s on clearance for $20 a pair. They had my size, along with about a dozen others, but I didn't buy any because I didn't care for the finish: very dark blue, but with whiskering and sanded knees. I mainly mention it as a PSA, if you're looking.

08 November 2010

Expense Report #31

I took a break from the shoe onslaught (for the moment at least), but I did get a couple new pairs of pants on Saturday. The five-pocket corduroys I got at JCPenney a couple of months ago have worked out great, so I bought two more pairs to replace some older, worse-fitting cords. These are described as "easy fit," but I would say they are closer to a straight-leg fit. (Of course, this may vary depending on your body type.)

They were already on sale for $20 each, but JCP was doing one of its periodic $10 off $50/$15 off $75/$20 off $100 coupon promos. I needed another pair of jeans anyway (the jeans update is coming tomorrow), and those were on sale for $14 (seriously), so I got three pairs of pants for $44. When you need basic items, you should be able to get them for basic prices.

07 November 2010

This Week in Awesome (11/6/10)

Busy weekend, kept thinking I'd forgotten something... yup. To be honest, I have only a couple of clips, so I guess that's why I forgot. But why not share them anyway?

You know that Conan O'Brien's new show starts Monday night, right? He posted a (very) compressed warm-up "show zero" online this week. (Splitsider)

Oh Amy Sedaris, how we heart you. Amy appeared on the fourth hour of Today this past week, promoting her craft book Simple Times. Hilarity ensued, mainly from hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb apparently not quite knowing what to make of Amy's exuberance. (Videogum via Oh No They Didn't!)

04 November 2010

Catalog Conundrum: Paul Fredrick

As the holiday season approaches, the flow of catalogs into my mailbox has picked up over the past couple of weeks. Some of them are regulars, while others I haven't seen in a long time. It got me thinking about how some of the men's clothing sellers tend to stay below most people's radar, and the sometimes odd niches they occupy on the spectrum of design and taste.

[Acknowledgment is due to the fine lady site Jezebel, as this is more or less a blatant ripoff of their "Today In Catalogs" feature, only guyish.]

Paul Fredrick is an excellent example, so I've chosen it to inaugurate this occasional feature. They offer a full range of men's clothing, but when I look at the catalog I can't help but wonder who would actually buy it. The styles tend to be just a little too colorful or excessively fashionable for the average guy, but not fashion-forward enough for cutting-edge types. Prices are on the high side of moderate, though they do tend to have sales.

And I do have to wonder why they chose that particular spelling of "Fredrick," since it's technically incorrect. I like to imagine that the company was started by three friends: Paul, Fred, and Rick.

Quallty? I don't have any idea, really. I bought a tie from them maybe 11 or 12 years ago, and since I don't need to wear ties very often, it has not seen much use. I think I still have it, but if I were to go look in my closet, I suspect it would look too wide, since wider ties were more in style back when I bought it.

But let's face it, you're really here to see what sort of craziness I was able to dig up on their site, so I won't keep you waiting any longer. How about we start with these fugly suede loafers, in three rather, uh, distinctive (and some would say un-masculine) colors. WTF? But then the designer thought, "these shoes aren't quite jazzy enough... I know! We'll add a metal bit detail." Yeah, that'll do it.

Not a loafer guy? Not to worry. Did you see the piece in last week's Times style section about wingtips? Somehow they overlooked this pair. I know, right? What hipster isn't going to want to walk around in two-tone brown leather and purple suede wingtips? And don't forget the matching belt.

I was under the impression this sort of crime against style had been outlawed in this country. Guess I was wrong.

It seems like every men's catalog on the planet has employed this Obamaesque model.

This sportcoat is almost normal-looking, but then there's the suede trim on the pocket edges. Huh?

This striped dress shirt has the stripes on the collar and cuffs going against the traditional orientation. They call it "continuous pattern." Can I suggest a different name? "Oops, we made this shirt wrong." The curved spread collar, here called the "varsity spread" (and sometimes referred to as the "Pat Riley"): unless you are Pat Riley, no one will take you seriously if you wear this. And this one? Paulie Walnuts, all the way.

This whole ensemble is so full of fail, I don't even know what to say, except my eyes hurt...

03 November 2010

Where Are the Watches?

The Watch Wednesday feature has been neglected lately, I know. I haven't bought any watches since the last one I featured, about a month ago, and I've pretty much exhausted the rest of the collection.

Since I've been focusing on my shoe upgrade project, I thought it best not to spend money on any watches for a while. But I did also make noise a while back about featuring watches that I don't have but would like to have. One recent watch that did catch my eye is a somewhat military-looking Timex, part of their new Originals collection based on designs from the company's archives.
Nice looking watch, huh? It's $95, which isn't quite Timex-for-J. Crew territory, but it's getting close. But I bet if I wait a few months, I can find one for less.

(Image borrowed from Nordstrom web site)

02 November 2010

Matters of No Real Importance

--My workplace started supplying us with tissues again. They stopped during budget cutbacks about a year and a half ago. This is more of a convenience than an actual perk, because the tissues they buy aren't really that great, but it's still nice not to have to go to Stop and Shop or Walgreens and buy my own.

--The city of Medford switched to a new trash and recycling system this week, the kind where the truck with an articulated arm comes along and picks up your trash container and empties it into the truck. I was kind of pleased about this, because the city distributed shiny new trash and recycling cans to each unit. The upstairs neighbors have never had any trash cans of their own, and when they'd add their trash to our can, it tended to get a little overfilled. Now the container for trash is about twice as big as the one we had, and even though we got two, one will probably be sufficient most weeks.

The recycling containers are huge, 50% bigger than the trash cans. This is an even bigger improvement, because recycling is collected every other week, and our standard-size bin was often overflowing by the day of collection. No sorting or bagging is needed; everything just goes into the can. It's too wide to fit between the car and the next-door neighbor's fence at the bottom of the driveway, but there's plenty of room to roll it out on the other side of the house.

When I got home from work last night, it was kind of strange to see the cans sitting right where I'd left them the day before. I looked inside; the trash can was empty, but the recycling can was still full. I put away the trash can and went inside, and about 20 minutes later I heard the truck outside. It was literally the first day of the new system, so I guess they were still getting used to things.

01 November 2010

Expense Report #30

I should be calling this the "shoe expense report." The smarter thing would have been to be looking for shoes during the summer, say one pair per month. But when do I do the smart thing?

This week I finally found a decent pair of penny loafers. I bought a couple of vintage, made in USA pairs on eBay back in the winter, and neither one worked out--one was too narrow, the other was wide enough but too big in length. I didn't pay much for either pair, and I'm hoping to resell them.

I ended up with a pair of Cole Haans with Nike Air in the soles, which seems to provide a little extra spring when walking. They are also generously cushioned inside, which you don't find that often in penny loafers, and the soles are a leather/rubber combination, which should work better for me as well. And of course, they're available in wide. These shoes normally sell for $168, but they were (and still are) $50 off at Zappos. Not sure why, but I'll take it.

I also ordered a pair of jeans, which should be here in a couple of days. I'll do another post on them after they arrive.

So It Begins...

Thank you, eBay, for alerting me this morning that there are only 54 shopping days left until Christmas. I'm sure I would have completely bonked on all my holiday shopping had you not provided me with that helpful reminder.

30 October 2010

This Week in Awesome (10/30/10)

It's back, as promised. Happy Halloween!

Trick: do you own Ray-Ban sunglasses with the stupid little logo printed on the top edge of the lens? The Trad shows you how to remove it with relative ease.

Treat: fast food items available in other countries, but not the US. Hm, maybe this should count as a trick also. (BuzzFeed via Consumerist)

Got you costume squared away yet? If not, maybe some of these featured on Racked will inspire you: costumes for couples, the sexy and/or slutty (there's only one in this group for guys, but don't let that stop you--if there was ever a day for trashy cross-dressing, Halloween is it), and even some cute baby and pet costumes. You're welcome.

28 October 2010

Matters of Style

SAR must-read site The Awl launched a sister site this week, The Hairpin. By "sister" I mean primarily by and for the ladies, but of course anyone can read it, and they've already gotten a fair amount of attention around the webs with this hilarious piece, a woman's perspective on the recent trend of guys dressing better. I strongly urge you to take a few minutes and go read it.

Elsewhere, I came across a deal I want to share: Lands' End Canvas is offering an extra 20% off anything that's already on sale. Currently the sale section is a mix of items from fall and the earlier spring/summer collection, and there are some pretty good deals in there.

But among them are two pairs of Allen Edmonds shoes, the MacNeil wingtip and the Leeds calfskin plain-toe, both of which normally retail for $325 per pair. That's not terribly unreasonable for made-in-USA dress shoes that, properly cared for, will last you a lifetime, but here each style is on sale for $260, and the additional discount brings them down to $208, which is 36% off the original price (I checked that with a calculator), a really excellent discount on these shoes.

(The offer is good through next Wednesday, 11/3, and includes free shipping if you spend $50. You'll need to enter the codes CANVASPLUS20 and 2050 in the appropriate places during checkout.)

Addendum: I guess I wasn't the first person to notice this deal and post about it. Some of the commenters over at Sartorially Inclined are reporting varying degrees of success with this promotion; the upshot is that you are probably better off getting a customer service rep on the phone.

27 October 2010

A Rationale for Helping Out

Our friend Dave's band The Rationales have finished recording their first full album, The Distance in Between. To accomplish the last few steps leading to its release, they're asking for a little help from friends and fans.

To that end, the band has teamed up with Kickstarter to raise the funds to cover the mixing and post-production costs. Interested parties can donate as little as $1 to help the band achieve its goal, with various reward packages available, including merchandise and tickets to the CD release party.

They are already more than 40% of the way to their goal, so as a friend I'm helping them out by spreading the word.

26 October 2010

Ad Nausea

Have you noticed how stuff follows you around on the web now? Go browse some shoes at Zappos, and you'll then notice display ads on other sites with little pictures of the shoes you were looking at.

That's one thing, but because we're in the final week of election season, I'm now getting pestered by political ads. I saw a couple of ads for local races on a site that wasn't local. And yesterday, while I was watching a show on Hulu while eating lunch, I got a political ad between segments of the show. They must be using IP addresses to determine location, and then serve an ad pertinent to my area, as if the biannual bombardment of them on regular television wasn't annoying enough already.

25 October 2010

Expense Report #29

The shoe upgrade project continues... last Wednesday I got an email from Endless, the shoe site, for a two-day promotion: $25 off $100, $50 off $200, $75 off $300.

Endless marks stuff down fairly frequently, so sometimes you stumble on bargains when you aren't necessarily expecting to find them. That was the case here: I found a pair of Cole Haan three-eyelet moccasin-style shoes with lug soles that had been marked down from $200 to $110. They were available in wide, which is always a plus for me, so with the additional discount they were $85.

Endless offers free two-day shipping on most shoes (certain shoes qualify for free overnight, but I can't discern any logic to it), so I had them on Friday. Since I never really know what to expect these days in terms of fit, I was pleased to find that these shoes are quite comfortable. They're a dark brown tumbled leather, different from anything else I have at the moment, and they will nicely replace an old pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes in a similar style that just aren't comfortable enough to walk in any longer.

I also acquired a very nice charcoal herringbone tweed sportcoat from a seller on Style Forum. It's J. Crew, from two years ago, with fabric from the Moon mill in the UK, but unlike some of their lower-priced sportcoats, this one was made in Mexico. Finding stuff on Style Forum in larger sizes is a challenge, so that's why I grabbed this. The sleeves are a little long, so it's already at the tailor, and I'll pick it up Saturday.

24 October 2010

Programming Note

This past week was a bit too much for me, with various issues to deal with at work on top of my main monthly deadline, and family visiting for the past four days. Basically what I'm saying is that there is no TWiA this week--there's plenty of awesome out there on the internets, I just didn't have time to go out there and find it. We will resume this feature next Saturday. Thanks for your patience.

23 October 2010

Kid Wrangling

The whole Santa Cruz contingent is in town, including our infant niece, to attend a wedding. They arrived Thursday morning, and the nephews had expressed interest in going to the aquarium. When the Mrs. first told me about the plan to go yesterday, I thought she meant everyone was going, but I found out on Thursday that her intention was for us to take the boys, allowing their mother and stepdad to do other things that day.

It took me by surprise at first, but I didn't really have a problem with it. The boys are about to turn ten (in fact, turning ten tomorrow) and three months from being 13. In the past we would have hesitated to consider this kind of an outing, but they're old enough now, and in the past couple of years they have made a lot of progress in moderating their public behavior.

So yesterday morning we drove over to Harvard Square so I could purchase discount passes to the aquarium (a perk offered by my employer) and then out to Concord to pick them up where they are staying. They got some stern warnings about behavior from both mother and stepdad, but they know from experience that their aunt doesn't put up with any crap. Basically that's her job description: not taking crap from people for a living.

During the car ride they reenacted scenes from their favorite movies and YouTube clips, which kept them occupied most of the way into the city. When we were driving around the Greenway area, hoping to find a parking space, they got a little antsy, so we gave up and parked in a garage. We had warned them that it was chilly and windy, but the younger one insisted on wearing shorts. As we made our way along the waterfront from the garage, they got a taste of just how chilly it really was.

Our visit to the aquarium went just fine. In fact it lasted less than an hour, because both boys said they were bored. The penguins held their interest better than just about anything else. We had thought they would enjoy the museum of science more, but the aquarium had been specifically requested. Whatever; we were all hungry by then, so we went off in search of lunch.

Our original plan was to walk to the North End and go to Pizzeria Regina, but before we'd even made it across the Greenway, we realized that it was too cold to walk that far, so we detoured to the Quincy Market location. The boys devoured the pepperoni pizza quickly, declaring it good.

We drove back to our house, because we had to tend to the dog, and the boys wanted to see her. They also got an hour or so to indulge in the pleasure of the Cartoon Network, because while they are allowed to watch movies at home and have access to Netflix, they don't have any regular TV service.

When we got in the car to return them to their parental units, they started getting kind of aggressive toward each other. We sat in the driveway and waited it out. By the time we were on route 2 heading west, the older one had fallen asleep, possibly still jet-lagged, so the rest of the ride was quiet.

When we got to our destination, their stepdad said, "You didn't lose them? We would have paid you extra."

21 October 2010

Beep. Beep. Beep.

One of the upstairs neighbors set off the smoke alarms about a week ago. We're not sure exactly what happened, but in the past former residents did things like leave something in their toaster oven too long, causing it to go off.

This only merits mentioning because the detectors are hard-wired, so if one goes off, they all go off, including the ones in our apartment, and they are painfully loud. When it goes off, we literally have to cover our ears until it stops. The dog isn't too thrilled, either.

And then, as a bonus, there is one detector on the wall at the very top of the stairs going up to the second floor that has been beeping once every 30 seconds or so for the past week. You can hear it anywhere in the house, even in the basement, even from outside. It's not loud enough or frequent enough to keep us from sleeping or anything like that, but in the lack of other sound (from the TV, for example) it is fairly noticeable, and after a while it's kind of maddening.

I emailed one of the folks upstairs, and she said she doesn't know why it's continued to beep all this time. She's asked the landlord to come around and deal with it, but who knows when that will happen?

20 October 2010

And Another Thing...

I had another thought about the Mad Men finale, which I should have included in last night's post, but it was getting late and I was worn out from work:

The pregnancy thing is getting a bit overdone. In season one we had Peggy's stealth pregnancy and the relinquishment of the subsequent child, which still echoed into this season when Pete announced that Trudy was pregnant.

At the end of season two Betty tells Don she's pregnant, and it goes on to figure in the first few episodes of season three.

Now we have Joan, pregnant by Roger, planning to have the baby and pass it off as Greg's. The show is running out of (significant) female characters to impregnate, and maybe that's just as well, because it's getting a little soap-operaish up in there.

On the other hand, it was nice to see Joan and Peggy share that moment after Don's announcement. It was nicely played, and after working together for almost six years, you'd think they would at least be friendly, if not friends, and this short but telling scene suggested that was the case. Perhaps we'll see their alliance strengthen next season?

19 October 2010

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 13: "Tomorrowland"

Apologies for the lateness--it's deadline week, and work did a good job of getting in the way of life yesterday and today.

[Standard disclaimer: I have avoided reading any other recaps, writeups, or other commentary on this episode before writing this, so if I express something similar to thoughts you've read elsewhere, it's entirely a coincidence. If you have not watched the episode, assume there are spoilers ahead and act accordingly.]

For a season-ending episode, this wasn't what I was expecting. I feel like Matthew Weiner and company threw us a little bait and switch here. Story lines took surprising turns that I'm sure not everyone feels happy about.

We had the big buildup about the uncertainty of the agency's future, and the only real change there was the pantyhose account, not exactly a big deal. No disrespect to Peggy and Ken; they saw the opportunity and made it happen. But didn't you feel like something bigger was about to happen? So the agency is still in business for now, and maybe everything's going to turn out fine, but it ended up being anticlimactic.

It looked like Don was moving toward a serious commitment to Faye, then he gets stars in his eyes for Megan. I think this had at least something to do with Faye's reaction to Sally's behavior and her admission that she isn't comfortable around children, and Megan's subsequent comforting of Sally after she fell down in the hall. Don saw Megan's maternal side in that situation, and I think it affected his judgment.

Don's proposal ended up seeming like a bit of a desperation move, like grabbing onto the first thing he could, and it was out of character--maybe that was the point? It's even more puzzling than Betty's attraction to Henry. And of course Roger, having married one of Don's previous secretaries, is congratulating Don the quickest and loudest.

Remember, too, that when Faye and Don first met, she told him he'd be remarried within a year. I assumed at the time that the line would end up coming true in regard to Faye herself.

And even the answer to Joan's situation was a bit of a fake-out, though certainly the one most people saw coming. But again, it doesn't fit with everything else we've seen. What if the baby looks like Roger? Greg is so jealous, he's not going to miss that. Or is this maybe the clue that Greg won't be coming back from Vietnam after all? And the business about her breasts being bigger from the pregnancy was kind of a sideways smirk at all the fuss made about Christina Hendricks's voluptuousness.

I guess we'll all have plenty to ponder and discuss until next summer. First question to my mind is, when will the story pick up? Will we see Joan in the last trimester of her pregnancy? The poor woman will barely be able to stand. Will we see Don and Megan's wedding? I kind of think they'll just go down to city hall.

18 October 2010

Expense Report #28

No shoes this week--I need to take at least a couple more weeks off from that. I did buy a shirt from L.L. Bean Signature, my first purchase from the line. Since the Mrs. and the Proper Bostonian both enjoy making fun of how many shirts I have, I have been following a closet policy of "one in, one out" for shirts, and I did not deviate from this practice.

Bean was offering 20% off everything last weekend, and free shipping, which I get from them all the time anyway, along with free returns, because I have a Bean Visa card. Another perk of this card is that I accumulate $10 credits. I believe you can apply only one per order, but they do allow you to use them with other discounts, so I got $10 off the shirt on top of the 20% off, which brought a $60 shirt down to $37.

I was pleasantly surprised by the fit. I had been led to believe that Bean Signature was cut very slim, but at least as far as the shirts go, this one is not as slim as others in my closet. (My Lands' End Canvas shirts are cut slimmer than this one.) This shirt in large is almost exactly the same size as a J. Crew extra large, but with the added benefit of the sleeves being a more reasonable length on me. Unlike some people, I don't care what size is on the label, as long as it fits.

17 October 2010

This Week in Awesome (10/16/10)

Foiled again... busier yesterday than I'd expected to be.

Who doesn't enjoy time-lapse videos? This one is of the dismantling of an old building in Paris and the construction of its replacement. (The Daily What)

Here's an interactive map of Springfield, the home town of the Simpsons. Someone put a lotta work into this, folks. (The Daily What)

This guy was having a good day--he'd just passed his driving test--then it all went downhill. Bonus: video. (Story: AP via Jalopnik; video: Gawker TV)

Have you noticed that sometimes movies or shows will appear in your Netflix Watch Instantly queue, then sometimes they drop off the list before you have the chance to watch them? The site Feedfliks aims to help you keep track of these comings and goings. (Consumerist)

14 October 2010

Live from New York...

Did you watch the live episode of 30 Rock? I know I didn't mention it beforehand, and of course I should have. It was a lot of fun--lots of great guest stars, a couple of them unexpected, and a clever gimmick for doing flashback cutaways in the live setting.

They're doing the whole episode live again for the west coast, and NBC will be posting both the east coast and west coast episodes on their site; I'll update this post with a link when they do.

Who says I don't care about any other shows besides Mad Men?

Update: As promised, you can watch the east coast and west coast episodes at these links on Hulu.

Update 2: The Vulture blog compiled a list of all the differences they could spot between the two airings.

13 October 2010


But wait, there's more... shoes.

Back in the spring, when I bought a pair of light tan suede bucks from Lands' End, I talked about some other buck-style shoes I'd seen at Nordstrom. For fall, they have returned, but with the traditional brick-red rubber soles instead of the goofy white ones, and in seasonally appropriate colors. They are sold under the store's 1901 house brand.

I was very excited to find that these shoes were being offered in gray, because I've been looking for a pair of gray bucks with red soles for some time. I hadn't been in Nordstrom in a while, so I discovered the shoes while looking at their site. They are offering free shipping with any shoe purchase, and the bucks are available in regular, narrow, and wide widths, so I ordered up a pair of the gray ones. (They are also available in the traditional dark khaki "dirty buck" color, dark brown, navy, loden, a very odd mustardy gold, and rust.)

For $100, these shoes are a very good value: they have excellent cushioning in the footbeds, are fully leather lined (this isn't that common at the $100 price point), and are made in Brazil, which isn't Italy or the US, but it isn't China either. There was only one problem: the toes were worn down or something. The nap of the suede was gone, and they looked black in front. The Mrs. said she thought they looked like it had been done on purpose. I kind of thought she was right, but I hoped she wasn't. I went back and looked at the shoes online; it wasn't obvious from the pictures that there was anything going on with the toes, or I would not have ordered them.

Over the weekend I took them back to the store (anything you buy online from Nordstrom can be returned to a store, saving the cost of sending it back to them if there's one near you). Sure enough, a salesperson in the shoe department explained to me that the "burnished" (her word) appearance of the toes was so "they look like you've had them for a long time." I decided not to bother trying to explain to her why this was a terrible idea.

I was going to just return the shoes, but she pointed out to me that the dirty buck ones did not have the distressed toes (perhaps in a gesture of appeasement to fussy old guys like me?), so I exchanged the gray ones for those. I figured, they are really comfortable shoes, which aren't always that easy for me to find these days, and the dark khaki is probably easier to coordinate with than the gray ones would have been. But I still hope to find gray ones some time.