31 March 2010

Cheesy Goodness

I have said before that this is not a food blog per se, but I certainly spend enough time thinking about food. And why not? I always eat breakfast and lunch (at least on weekdays). I know a lot of people tend to skip one or the other of those, but I can't.

The hospital cafeteria next door doesn't make too many things that I like, so most days I make a salad. But they stick to a rather rigid schedule, so it's easy to know when something I like is coming up. Every other Wednesday is macaroni and cheese. I wouldn't call it excellent, but it's good enough, and it's only $3.75 (I think it was even $3.50 when I started going there a couple of years back). I just wish they would do it on some other day besides Wednesday, because that's our weekly office bagel day, and things tend to get kind of carby. I try to have a lighter, vegetable-based supper to compensate.

Every Thursday there is some sort of salad with chicken at the grill station. It's on a four-week rotation: Greek, Southwest, Caesar. The fourth week there's a chicken Caesar wrap down at the sandwich station, then the whole thing repeats, always in the same order. I write them down on my cubicle calendar just to remind me, along with mac and cheese Wednesdays. Just a little something to look forward to...

30 March 2010

That's So Meta

Anyone up for a trip to the Schrute Farms Bed & Breakfast? It only exists on The Office, but it still has a page of reviews on TripAdvisor. Heh. No, really. The New York Times even wrote about it yesterday.

The part of the article I found somewhat disturbing was at the end, where the person from TripAdvisor says they had to add a disclaimer to the page explaining that it's not a real destination, because they had a complaint from someone who wanted to go there. I mean, I understand that not everybody watches television, and being familiar with The Office would kind of be a prerequisite to knowing this is a joke, but who would actually want to stay at a beet farm/B & B outside Scranton?

29 March 2010

Radio in My Head

In the morning I wake up to music on my clock radio. I'm not exactly sure what station it's tuned to; it used to be WFNX, but one morning it turned on to nothing but static, and for whatever reason I can't get 'FNX on it anymore, so I just fiddled with the dial until I found another station with a strong signal. I hear a fair bit of jabbering about sports, and when I do wake up to music, it's usually from the 1970s, so it's probably WZLX.

My brain has some pretty deeply ingrained memories of music, particularly stuff that I heard over and over on the radio while growing up in the '70s, so while I may hear only a tiny snippet of a song in the morning before shutting off the radio, by the time I get into the shower a couple of minutes later, my brain has filled in the blanks, so to speak, and is playing whatever song I caught a moment of. Today it was "Peace of Mind" by Boston.

The recall power of the brain is pretty amazing. So much stuff seeps in without our making a conscious effort to remember it. There are certain albums that I've listened to so many times that I can "play" them from beginning to end in my mind. So why, then, when I walk into the grocery store, can't I remember what I went there to buy without making a list? Why can I not recall the face of my grandfather, who died when I was six, but I can clearly hear his voice telling me not to go near the street when playing in his driveway?

Even stranger are the instances when a song clicks on in my brain completely unprovoked. In fact, it happened about 20 minutes ago: out of nowhere I suddenly had "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" by Meat Loaf playing in my head. Now, I admit to listening to Bat Out of Hell about half a squllion times... in 1977, before I'd had a musical awakening. But I haven't been anywhere near the album or the song in decades, so how does that happen?

Thing is, I don't necessarily want these songs in my head, but there's nothing I can do. (I was never much of a Boston fan, but I listened to the radio a lot, and I would usually just wait out the songs I didn't like instead of changing the station.) Occasionally I can "tune" my brain to a different song, but most of the time I'm stuck with whatever it is until I can start listening to something else. There have been times when it has lasted all day, but that's nothing: I have a coworker who claims she once had a song stuck in her head for a year. I never asked which song it was, because I was afraid it would trigger a relapse and she would then want to kill me.

27 March 2010

This Week in Awesome (3/27/10)

Welcome back, it's time for the usual weekend foolishness. (In case I haven't pointed this out before, I post these things on Saturdays so you can feel like you'll have enough time to check them out at your leisure.)

So yesterday the interwebs were abuzz with a video of a dog chewing pieces off the bumper of a police car in Chattanooga, TN. I only mention it as a public service in case any of you missed it. (The Awl via BuzzFeed)

Are you old enough to remember when customized vans were cool? If not, you probably think of vans differently. (Hemmings Auto Blog)

A bunch of actors and comedians got together and did a benefit to raise money to rebuild schools in Haiti. Each participant read a favorite tweet onstage, and there were 140 participants (get it?). Ben Stiller filmed the event, and you can buy a download of it for a donation of only $3 at Amazon or iTunes, and you can watch the trailer here. Among the participants, Rich Sommer, who plays Harry on Mad Men, stands out. Even if you've never seen the show, you can probably figure out which one is him if you watch the trailer. (Put This On)

26 March 2010

Overheard: Sooner Than You Think Edition

A young woman of 18 or possibly 20, looking up from reading the Metro and across the train to two other women she seems to be acquainted with: "Is 'over the hill' 40 or 50?"

25 March 2010

Domino Effect

Yesterday was one of those days when nothing went right on my morning commute, and a reminder that one seemingly insignificant thing can have significant repercussions.

See, the bus arrived couple of minutes later than it usually does. There's been a different driver this week; I don't know if it's the seasonal route shuffle, or if our recent driver is just on vacation. But anyway, we rolled into Wellington just a bit later than we've typically been arriving, just in time to see a train pulling into the station. If the bus had been on time, those of us on the bus would likely have made that train, and everything probably would have been fine.

But we didn't, and it wasn't. The next train took much longer to arrive than is normal. Meanwhile we were hearing PA announcements that the next northbound train would be coming out of service, so that would end up affecting the southbound trains eventually.

When the next Boston-bound train did arrive, it was totally packed, so I didn't even bother trying to get on. The one after that had a little room, but only about half of the people on the platform were able to squeeze on. The third train had enough room for the rest of us. By that point I had been on the platform for almost half an hour, and I was a little chilly.

I was already late, but I was mainly trying to get to work by 9:30, because that's when we have our weekly group breakfast. When I'm late like this, I usually switch over to the Green Line at North Station, because it stops right in front of our building. As the train rolled into North Station I saw a Green Line train that was probably an E close its doors and pull out. I waited, and after several minutes a C train showed up. I don't usually bother with these, because then I have to switch again at Copley, but I figured some forward motion was better than more standing around.

But when I got to Copley, I got to stand there and watch multiple B, C, and D trains come through for another 20 minutes or so. When I finally made it to work, it was ten minutes to ten (and miraculously, there was still one everything bagel remaining). There's no way I can know for certain if I would have made it on time, but I think I would have had a better chance if I had made that first Orange Line train.

24 March 2010

Afternoon Weirdness

This is real. And it's a hell of a lot more interesting to me than that boring basketball thing going on... (The Awl via MetaFilter)

23 March 2010


Some days, all you really want for lunch is chocolate pudding. Today was one of those days...

22 March 2010

Weekend Eats

After last weekend's near-biblical rain, we were rewarded with several days of truly wonderful early spring weather. (Of course, it's back down in the 40s today and we're going to get another bucket of rain dumped on us tonight, but that's how it goes around here.) The pleasant weather encouraged us to get out and do stuff over the weekend, and by "stuff" I mean stuff ourselves.

On Friday night our friend Dave's band The Rationales played at Precinct in Union Square, Somerville, so we went over early to eat there first. It's a nice, cozy little place, oddly shaped because it's in a basement. It's a bit on the dark side, which might be good for a date, but there's enough light to see your food, and they have a very good beer selection. The menu runs toward simple food, but it's tasty, well prepared, and everything is very reasonably priced. And if you're just looking for a local to hang out in, you could do far worse.

Saturday found us doing our usual weekend runaround, which often includes a stop at Lyndell's in Ball Square for their famous moon cakes, fruit pastries, or turnovers (I've been on a raspberry turnover kick lately; the Mrs. always gets apple). And for you locals, Lyndell's is about to open their third location in Cambridge, on Prospect Street where Carberry's used to be.

On Saturday evening we had plans to meet a friend in the North End for dinner. We managed to find a parking space on Atlantic Avenue with very little effort, and walked over to Hanover Street, which was teeming with people as if it was a Saturday night in the middle of July, not March. (If you judged by how people were dressed, you would also have thought it was July: we saw plenty of shorts and flip-flops, so  people are clearly ready to shake off the winter and dive right into their warm-weather wardrobes.) Everyone was out enjoying the evening, and it was another reminder of why we love living here so much.

Our dinner destination was Il Villaggio, a small place toward the Greenway end of Hanover. We had been there once before, a couple of years ago, and while we enjoyed it, I didn't recall much about my meal. I thought we should revisit it and see how things were. There are, by my rough count, about 30 seats in the place, and because it's small, it doesn't get too noisy. The staff were very pleasant and attentive, and made us feel like they genuinely appreciated our visit. All of our meals were excellent. Most of the entrees are in the $15 to $20 range, which is a nice sweet spot for dining out.

Il Villaggio does not serve dessert, but in the North End that isn't a problem. On a night like Saturday you can stand in line at Mike's for 20 or 30 minutes, or you can always wander over to Bova's on Salem Street for cannoli. There was also a line for Modern Pastry, but a short way up the block, diagonally across from Il Villaggio, is the second location of Lyndell's, which opened last year. There were a couple of people ahead of us at the counter, but no line. Prices are higher at this location, but that's not exactly a surprise. And we've now visited, and snacked at, two Lyndell's locations in one day, an "accomplishment" we are peculiarly proud of.

20 March 2010

This Week in Awesome (3/20/10)

Hi there. Fully into weekend mode, especially considering how amazingly nice it was today, especially for mid-March. Also I just spent an hour or so getting my replacement TiVo connected and set up, which went more smoothly than I'd expected.

This week, we begin with the heartwarming and inspirational story of a 23-year-old guy who never learned how to ride a bicycle. (YouTube via Unlikely Words)

Jalopnik says we must watch this, and who are we to argue? They rarely let us down. FYI, it's a rap video about cars. And Jesus. (via VWVortex)

In a slightly less savory vein, but still more or less safe for work, two things we can always use more of: Explosions and Boobs. (UrbanDaddy)

And finally, this new ad campaign appeared this week. Unconventional, to be sure, but also refreshingly honest. (The New York Times via The Awl)

19 March 2010

Friday Funnies: Daily Show Takedown

Jon Stewart does it again, from last night's installment of The Daily Show. (Note: this opening segment runs 13 minutes, substantially longer than TDS segments usually do.)

18 March 2010

Watch Wednesday Thursday (3/18/10)

Last time we had a modern watch, so it's back to vintage, but still Timex, because it was handy. Some time ago I mentioned that my interest in vintage watches was spurred by an old Timex that I found at a flea market. This is not that watch, but it is exactly like that watch.

The original might still be around here somewhere, but it was just too old and dirty to be viable. So some years later I started looking for one like it on eBay. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I found a similar, probably earlier version that lacked a second hand, and then I found several others that were not in working condition, but I couldn't see the point of buying another broken watch. I looked on and off, and found this one just last year.

Once again I am reminded that older watches were generally smaller than today's styles, though this watch is not quite as small in diameter as the pair of Caravelles I featured recently. One thing I do like about this watch, and what caught my eye back at that flea market, is how the numerals taper very slightly toward the center of the dial. The strap came with the watch, and it's not really my style, but I don't feel like replacing it is a priority.

24: What Happened?

We're at the halfway point of the eighth "day" of 24, so I thought it was time to check in and assess the damage, so to speak. Curiously, this week's episode was perhaps the best of this season so far, with more of the sort of action we expect from the show. But at the same time, there were still so many of the now-too-common moments of "Huh?" and "WTF?" that make me shake my head in disbelief. It pains me to say it, but 24 has become mostly a bore, even when the action cranks up.

The show has always suffered, even when it was at its best, from the need to fill out its real-time story lines by introducing subplots and secondary characters. This season this device has hit a new low with the story of CTU analyst Dana Walsh's sordid past coming back to haunt her, right in the middle of the pesky national terrorist crisis. Besides being groan-inducing week after week, this subplot wastes the actress Katee Sackhoff.

But I think it's been even worse to Freddie Prinze Jr., who plays her fiance Cole Ortiz, as he became an unwilling accomplice to Dana's misadventure. Prinze delivers his lines with all the enthusiasm of a fourth-grader giving an oral report in front of the class. He's like a talking piece of driftwood. I'm not familiar with the rest of his acting career, so I'm not sure if he's really this bad an actor, he just can't get a proper grip on this particular role, or if he's merely as bored as the rest of us.

There's more, but the more I think about it, the more depressing it becomes to contemplate writing about it. I don't even care anymore about the treaty negotiations going on between the presidents of the United States and the fictitious Middle Eastern country the terrorists are from. And the main plot, involving nuclear rods stolen by terrorists, feels like a retread of previous seasons' stories.

The one bright spot (for me, anyway) has been seeing the psychological unraveling of FBI agent Renee Walker after her involvement in last season's events and her eye-opening regarding the steps that sometimes have to be taken to protect the country from its enemies. But Renee has been out of the action for the past couple of weeks (another annoying habit that 24's writers have).

Jack Bauer, of course, is still Jack Bauer, and we are still treated to the occasional Jack moments that fans of the series love so much. But they seem fewer and farther between this season, which may just be caused by the overall sense of lassitude that now pervades the show. The rumors suggest that this season will indeed be the end of the line for Jack and his cohorts, and the show has wanted to establish itself on the big screen for a few years now anyway, which makes more sense to me at this point.

If you enjoy this type of show and would like to watch something more satisfying, I can't recommend the British series MI-5 highly enough. The show has aired in the UK (where it's called Spooks) since 2002, and series (the British term for seasons) one through four aired in the US on the A&E network before they were seized with reality-show fever. I would have thought that BBC America would show it, but we didn't have that channel until a couple of years ago, so perhaps they did at some point.

MI-5 is orders of magnitude more realistic than 24 (sometimes disturbingly so), and it's a lot less predictable. Our local PBS station started showing MI-5 weekly some time last year, but the way they schedule the airings is frustratingly inconsistent. For the month of March, they have replaced the Saturday night high-definition showings of MI-5 (perfect for DVR capture) with "viewers' favorites," presumably in conjunction with fundraising.

The better idea, then, is probably to go with Netflix. British shows tend to be produced in smaller batches of episodes; the first series of MI-5 was six episodes, and all subsequent series have been ten, so it won't take as long to watch as some American shows. And Netflix even has the first four series available to watch via their streaming feature, so you don't even have to wait for a DVD to arrive to sample the show and see if you like it.

17 March 2010

Back Soon...

I should have mentioned this earlier today, or even yesterday, but it's deadline week once again, so bear with me while the flood of posting slows down for a bit. Belated watch post will show up probably tomorrow night, and I have something else that I may be able to finish tomorrow during the day.

15 March 2010

TiVo Trauma

It's been raining like hell for two days here in our corner of the world. Several of my coworkers have water in their basements, but fortunately ours is dry. However, we do have a dog who dislikes getting wet, so convincing her it's in her interest (as well as ours) to attend to her needs has been a bit tricky.

But in fact I have more pressing issues to contend with. Some time on Thursday our power went out. I have no idea why it did, but when it came back on it killed our TiVo. It restarts itself after a power loss, but I guess there was a surge, even though I have it, the television, and all the other associated components plugged into a surge protector.

When I got home that evening I noticed the light on the front of the unit was on, and I jokingly asked the dog if she had been using the TiVo while we were at work. Then I saw the blinking clock in our bedroom, and I realized that the TiVo was stuck in its startup sequence (if it had completed that sequence normally, an additional light would have come on). I tried unplugging it and initiating the startup sequence again, something that has been successful in the past, but no luck this time.

Half an hour on the phone with TiVo's tech support confirmed that the patient was DOA. Basically, if your machine can't get past the initial welcome screen, there's nothing more they can do for you, except offer to sell you a replacement. I've had the thing too long to contemplate living without it, and I have no interest in whatever sort of device the cable company might supply me with, so the replacement is on its way. Because I purchased a "lifetime" subscription to the TiVo service, I'm apparently within some sort of window; it's no longer under warranty, but it isn't costing me as much as it might have. I wasn't about to question it.

Meanwhile, there was some stuff on the TiVo that we hadn't watched yet, though not too much, that is now gone. Most of it is available in various places online. (I was saving season three of Mad Men to rewatch, but the DVD set is coming out next week.) There are also a few shows on cable channels we won't be able to watch until I get the new unit up and running. That's because the TiVo uses two CableCards, which are credit card-sized versions of a cable box. No TiVo means no CableCards, so at the moment we're getting only the broadcast networks and a few other channels. The television has a CableCard slot, so I might be able to pull one card and switch it to the TV. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to do that on my own, or if I need to get a tech from the cable provider to come and do it (which will of course mean spending more money).

It's very strange, after almost six years of being a TiVo user, to suddenly have to shift back to thinking about what shows are on on a given night, at what time, and if there's anything else on at the same time that we care about, as opposed to thinking about what we want to watch tonight from the pool of what we've already recorded, and having to sit through commercials. Technology is great, until it fails you.

The other thing I'm trying to do is get my old (circa 2003) Powerbook laptop to work with the TV so we can watch online shows on the larger TV screen. I picked up a cable yesterday, but when I connect it to the computer, the computer's cursor disappears, making it a little difficult to do anything with it. This isn't crucial, but it's something I'd been thinking about doing anyway, and it would be nice if I could get it to work.

I need to look into the alleged guarantee provided by the surge protector company, which is the whole point of buying those things anyway. And I think maybe I need to consider getting a better one for the whole A/V setup.

13 March 2010

This Week in Awesome (3/13/10)

Once again, not the heftiest haul this week. Is the internet getting tired of itself?

This appeared at the beginning of the week, and when that happens there's a dilemma: post it separately, or hold until Saturday when may have already grown stale? I showed it to the Mrs., who immediately posted it on her facebook page, so apologies if you've already seen it, but a woman who gets into an accident while/because she's shaving her lady bits while driving is the very essence of what I try to do here each week. Bonus points to the Keys News for their appropriately edgy headline on this story. (Keys News via Jalopnik via Jezebel)

Jalopnik's sibling sports site Deadspin recently started a series featuring excerpts from a subcategory of romance writing set in the world of NASCAR. Be warned: lots of dangerous auto-eroticism cliches ahead. (Deadspin via Jalopnik)

This cute little video is rather mesmerizing, so I can only imagine what it might be like to watch it while under the influence of a controlled substance. Even sober, there is a slight risk that your brain could short-circuit from watching it. So what are you waiting for? (Daily What via Videogum)

11 March 2010

Gone Too Soon: A Shopping Eulogy

For a couple of years now I've been wearing (and praising) the clothes from Martin + Osa, a brand of American Eagle Outfitters. Think of M+O as AE's more worldly and sophisticated older sibling: the styles are a little more grown-up, intended for an older customer. The fits are a little sleeker, the fabrics and details a bit nicer, and the logos, if present at all, are small and subtle.

When I first encountered M+O's clothes, they were splitting the stylistic difference between Banana Republic and J. Crew, skewing perhaps a bit more toward the latter. But as subsequent seasons were released, M+O started to find its own path. They were a couple of years ahead of the Gap with regard to doing high-quality denim in a variety of fits. Their casual shirts don't have J. Crew's "secret wash," but they are plenty soft enough, and if, like me, you believe in ironing your shirt before you leave the house (at least on work days), the M+O shirts tend to look a bit more polished, and they come in more interesting colors and patterns. They also did very nice cashmere sweaters that were often on sale for excellent prices.

Unfortunately Martin + Osa has been losing money pretty much all along, and this week American Eagle announced that they are pulling the plug on the brand. The spring merchandise is already in stores, so it seems like the timing of the announcement, and the wind-down that will happen some time this summer, had to be done before production of fall items would have begun.

There are fewer than 30 M+O stores nationwide, and I'm sure they kept the store count low to keep costs down, but such a strategy may have inadvertently contributed to the label's demise, because not enough people knew about the brand. When I read other people's posts about the clothes, the comments always ran along the lines of "I'd never heard of them, but now that I have I'm very impressed with their stuff." Perhaps a little more effort on the part of marketing might have increased people's awareness of the brand. I don't know, maybe some ads in fashion magazines? It takes a lot to establish a new brand in the marketplace, and M+O never got the chance to gain traction with shoppers.

I'm very disappointed. Martin + Osa had quickly become one of my go-to sources for good-quality clothing at fair prices, and it's one less choice I'll have for where to shop come fall. And I wonder if American Eagle will offer the store employees jobs in their other stores? I placed an order today for a couple of spring items I'd been thinking about; no point in waiting any longer. I'm sure there will be some sort of liquidation sale, but at that point the size and color choices will probably be limited, and it will be depressing. I'd rather remember them as they were when things were better.

10 March 2010

Watch Wednesday Bonus Bit

I'm not posting a watch this week, but I thought I'd relate a bit of watch trivia. Several months back when I featured this Caravelle watch, I mentioned that I didn't know how to adjust the day of the week at the end of a month with less than 31 days.

These days it's fairly common for watches to have more than one "stop" or crown position: pulling the crown out to the first position lets you adjust the date or the day of the week (by turning the crown one way or the other), and pulling it out the rest of the way enables setting the time.

But back in the late 1960s when this watch was made, this sort of quick-set feature was typically found only on higher-end Swiss brands. If your watch had only the date function, then you turned the hands manually through the extra day (or three, in the case of the February-to-March transition) until the date changed to the 1st. (I once had an old Seiko that had an early variant of a quick-set function: to advance the date, you pushed in the crown, and the date changed with a heavy click. It was pretty cool.)

When a watch had day and date functions, it was a little trickier. By spending a little time fiddling around with this watch, I was able to figure out how it works. When you turn the hands past midnight both the day and date advance, but if you then turn the hands back a couple of hours there's a tiny click, and the day backs up but the date doesn't, so if you then turn the hands forward again, the date moves ahead an extra day. Simple and rather clever, but without an instruction booklet or a jewelry store employee to show you how it's done, it's not entirely obvious.

Madly Overpriced

Hmm. Mad Men dolls? I guess I like the idea of it better than the execution. As with most things of this nature, the faces don't look right. They look too much like Barbie faces, really.

And $75 each? Ow. For that kind of money, the dolls should walk and talk and make drinks.

09 March 2010

TV Blues: Unmet Expectations

Time for some more NBC griping, though this time it's not the programming decisions (Olympics tape-delays notwithstanding) but the programs themselves that I'm taking issue with.

Law & Order: SVU used to be pretty reliably entertaining, if occasionally a bit over the top. But this season has been largely laughable. Last week's episode about a killer targeting lesbians dragged out every dusty stereotype in the book. It wasn't helped by the presence of Kathy Griffin as an in-your-face activist. I'm a fan of KG, but there were two problems with this casting: I couldn't buy her in a dramatic role because of her standup and her overall public persona; and I can only assume that she agreed to do the part before she'd read the script, because her dialogue was abysmal.

Last week's highly anticipated episode of The Office, in which Pam finally gave birth, was another serious letdown. This show rarely hits a wrong note, but this double-length episode managed to cram in almost six seasons' worth of them. Andy and Erin's tiptoeing around each other has none of the charm of Pam and Jim's earlier trajectory; it's gotten so tedious that now that they're finally going on a date, I'm not sure I care. Pam and Jim's wedding episode earlier this season was one of the series' best, but the interactions between them as parents-to-be this week felt mostly inconsistent with their characters. Could it be that the baby is causing them to lose their cute-couple mojo? And how in the world could they allow Dwight to enter their house, unaccompanied, under any circumstances? I sincerely hope The Office hasn't jumped the shark, but I'm worried.

And what of Saturday Night Live? Eighteen months ago the show was once again relevant and on target with the election business, but more importantly, it was funny. There are certainly other bright spots: Jon Hamm's second time hosting wasn't quite as good as his first, but his appearance as the saxophone-playing Sergio in the Digital Short "The Curse" was one of the funniest things the show has done in ages. Zach Galifianakis's oddball humor this past weekend elevated the monologue, usually one of the weaker parts of the show. And whenever Justin Timberlake hosts, the show is funny, period.

But these high points are getting increasingly scarce. The previous weekend's show was hosted by Jennifer Lopez. I've never had much of an opinion about her as a singer or an actor, but the show did her a huge disservice by saddling her (and the rest of the cast) with sketches that mostly leaned on tired Latino stereotypes, because, you know, Lopez is Puerto Rican. (The exception was the telenovela spoof "Besos y Lagrimas," which was pretty funny.) By contrast, Lopez happened to guest star on last night's episode of How I Met Your Mother and there wasn't a single Latina joke or reference. She was just a character, the author of a self-help book for women, and I thought she did a decent job.

I think SNL just doesn't put enough thought into how its guest hosts can best fit into the ensemble. Too often the fourth wall is dropped and the host plays himself or herself. That only works when that person totally upends their public persona, which doesn't happen often. And when a particular week's show does turn out to be really good, it always leaves me thinking, why aren't they all this funny?

P.S. I'm still not sold on Vampire Weekend after seeing them perform on this week's show, but "Giving Up the Gun" is the freshest and most interesting song of theirs that I've heard thus far.

08 March 2010

Monday Morning Thoughts

Yeah, I know it's after noon. Shut it...

So, nice sunny day with 8 AM temperature in the low 40s means... someone had to show up at the bus stop wearing the flip-flops. I would have been kind of disappointed if it hadn't happened. But seriously, what's wrong with these people? If you still have to wear a fleece jacket outside, then arguably it isn't warm enough for flip-flops. It just isn't.

Then we got on the bus, and flip-flop person was in luck, because this particular driver likes to keep the heat on really, really high, even though it was totally unnecessary today. And of course, something was backing up traffic on the Fellsway, so the ride took much longer than usual.

In the middle of the crawl, the driver (who, incidentally, has a voice that could cut glass) started asking who was playing their iPod so loudly that she could hear the headphone spillover all the way up front. That would have been the woman sitting to my left, and thanks so much for that. But as another passenger sagely pointed out, if the music is that loud, there's no way the listener could hear the driver's question. Welcome to another week...

06 March 2010

This Week in Awesome (3/6/10)

Seems like it was kind of a slow week out there on the interwebs. I'm sure you've seen the new OK Go video by now, so I'm not going to bother with that. And there's a public-service announcement of sorts over on Funny or Die involving several actors who played the various presidents on Saturday Night Live over the years, but honestly I didn't find it especially funny, so I'm not going to bother with that either.

So where does that leave us? Well, if you happen to live in France and you're too busy to get to confession during Lent, you can still be redeemed. (Daily Mail UK via The Awl)

This dude was trying to show off by standing on the door sill of his car while spinning donuts, but it didn't quite work out that way. (YouTube via Jalopnik)

And in a similar vein, I wonder how people can consider doing stuff like this and not realize it's a terrible idea. Oh well... (Videogum)

04 March 2010

Communication Breakdown

Over the years I've accumulated several email accounts. I suspect quite a few of you have as well. Some of them die when we switch jobs or internet providers; others hang around for a long time.

At the moment I have six that I use with any regularity: my primary personal account; a work account; one for blog-related correspondence (you guys can email me, you know); one from my internet provider; a secondary account on that domain that I created after the first became too spam-ridden (I use these two for miscellaneous online stuff); and an account that is associated with my eBay and PayPal profile.

I have the last one because it seemed like a good idea to keep those sorts of financial doings separate from the rest of my online life. This account is with Lycos (yes, they still exist, and I don't blame you for being surprised). Initially I set up my PayPal account with a mac.com address, but about a year after I'd established it, Apple took those away from people who didn't want to pay $100 a year to keep them, and I had to find something else.

The only reason I'm mentioning any of this is because I could not access my Lycos Mail account for about 36 hours. The browser would just sit there, trying to do its thing, with the little circle going around up in the corner. Finally today, around lunch time, I was able to get back in. I don't know if it was just me, but I couldn't find anything online about a service outage.

Fortunately I didn't have any items for sale on eBay this week, and I wasn't bidding on anything, so I didn't miss anything other than a couple of messages from Lord & Taylor and Omaha Steaks (apparently I overlooked a check box when I bought my dad that package from them for Christmas, because they had the nerve to CALL MY FUCKING HOUSE to tell me about a "special offer"). But I'm very glad I don't use the Lycos account for anything crucial.

I'm considering getting rid of it entirely, but it's a lot of trouble to change everything with PayPal and eBay. Say what you want about Google, but my Gmail account has never been inaccessible for more than a few minutes.

03 March 2010

Watch Wednesday (3/3/10)

I'd just like to take a moment to point out that I'm caught up, so to speak, with this feature, to where I'd have been if I hadn't gotten off schedule when we went away in January. And I'd also like to mention that I've managed to post the Watch Wednesday watches on Wednesday for four consecutive Wednesdays. Yay me...

So, another Timex, a contemporary one. In fact, this is a currently available model. I think it has a list price of $80 or so; I saw it last year at Target for around $60, but I was able to find one on eBay (of course) for $25. It's pretty rugged-looking, and fairly solidly built. I could also get this wet and not worry about it.

The picture comes fairly close to capturing the color of the dial, a very deep blue (this style is also available with a black or yellow dial). For a while you could get it on a sturdy metal bracelet (for more money), but this one came with a typically crappy resin strap, so I did my thing and replaced it.

This strap is made of a synthetic called Lorica that manages a fairly decent approximation of leather's texture and feel. From a couple of feet away it even looks kind of like leather. Synthetic straps like this are more comfortable for me to wear in warm weather. About the only thing I don't like about Lorica is that it costs as much as leather; this strap was $30. Still, it looks good and feels good, it seems durable so far, and like the watch it's water resistant.

We'll now resume our original biweekly schedule for this feature.


Recently I found myself in need of the services of a tailor. I acquired an interesting pair of wool cargo pants on eBay that were the correct waist size but were a couple of inches longer than my usual inseam. I also have a wonderful pair of Banana Republic wool dress pants in a hefty and luxurious covert twill fabric that I found on sale many years back that hat gotten a bit too snug in the waist. Fortunately they were made with a split back so they could be altered, and there was at least an extra inch of fabric on each side (though I only needed about half of that).

Now, you've heard me talk about the Mrs.' sewing skills, so why should I need a tailor when I have an in-house artisan? Simple: the Mrs. hates doing alterations. I'm not entirely sure why. I have two pairs of corduroy jeans that are too long; I asked her to hem them in the fall of 2008, and they are still sitting in her work area. I've tried gentle nagging, I've tried subtle cajoling, I've tried outright bribery. Will I get to wear them before it gets to be shorts weather? Who knows?

But it's not just that she hates doing alterations for me--she hates doing them for herself, too. Since she's very short, it's difficult for her to find pants that fit properly without hemming, and she often buys pants that end up just sitting in the pile of items to be hemmed. She has two wool coats from Filene's (which tells you how long ago she bought them; the regular Filene's stores closed three and a half years ago) that needed to have their sleeves shortened; she finally got around to fixing one of them this past fall.

I didn't even ask her about hemming the cargo pants, since she hasn't gotten to my other hemming requests. I showed her the other wool pants with the split waist, and she basically said she could do it, but it was more of a bother than she felt like dealing with. So I needed to find a professional.

There are no tailor shops in my immediate neighborhood. There isn't even a dry cleaner; there used to be one just a block away, but it closed a couple of years back, and it's been sitting empty since, with all the signage in place and equipment still inside. There is also no tailor in the vicinity of where I work. There was a place near where we used to live, but I was not thrilled with their output, and I thought they were overpriced.

Back in December, Giuseppe of An Affordable Wardrobe wrote about the tailor shop in Teele Square where he takes his thrift finds that need alterations. He had high praise their work, so I figured that was as good a recommendation as any. Teele is near enough to us that we can easily swing through there on our Saturday errand runs, and I can get there on my own if need be. Mr. Lee did excellent work, and the total for both pants was $27. Perhaps the Mrs. should take her own alteration needs to him; they would certainly be finished sooner.

01 March 2010

Eyeglasses for Less

Do you need glasses? Not so much meaning "are you in need of corrective lenses?" (you should probably see a doctor if this is an issue), but more "are you in need of a new pair of glasses?" Because if you are, I have a site you should check out.

I bought a pair of glasses online a couple of years back (if you are thoroughly bored, or just new here, you can use the right-side navigation to go back to January 2008 and read the whole saga starting with the post called "Seeing Red"). It went okay, all things considered: the glasses cost half of what I would have paid in a local optometry shop, but Frames Direct did screw up the first time around, forgetting the anti-reflective coating and adding another couple of weeks to the whole process.

Some time later I came across a blog called Glassy Eyes (link over there on the right) dedicated to helping consumers avoid getting ripped off at places like Lenscrafters, a noble mission that I certainly support. Out of curiosity I visited all the sites that Glassy Eyes recommends and links to, and I could not find one pair of glasses, regardless of price, that met my needs in terms of shape, size, and style. Not a single one. Granted, I'm incredibly fussy, but still.

In December I was browsing Frames Direct after receiving an email from them, and I spotted a pair of frames I really liked. They were acetate, in a decidedly retro style. I hadn't had frames that were not metal in over twenty years, so I thought it might be time for a change. But I wanted to see if maybe I could find them for less somewhere else, so I spent some time searching online, and came across another online eyeglass site called CoolFrames.com.

Their total cost on the frames and lenses worked out to about half of what Frames Direct would have charged. It took longer for them to make the glasses (I suspect they order the frames from manufacturers only when a customer orders the glasses from them), but they were optically correct, which is what's most important. (As an added bonus, I now look more like my cartoon avatar up there in the top right corner.)

I'm happy with these glasses, but even so, I find myself wishing I'd had more options. There's the bottom end, represented by places like 39DollarGlasses or EyeBuyDirect; if you just want the cheapest possible glasses, and you aren't too fussy about shape or color, you can do well at sites like those. If you are looking for something more specific, you can take the routes I've used. But it would be great if there was a middle ground of sorts, a place that offered more stylish options at a lower price point.

There's a feature on eyeglasses in the March issue of GQ, and it mentions a new company called Warby Parker. They are taking a very customer-friendly approach to selling glasses online. All styles cost $95, including prescription lenses. If you are not sure what styles will look good on your face, they will send you up to five frames to try on, free of charge. You get a prepaid return label and seven days to send them back. If you decide to order glasses, those will also be free of shipping charges, and they will also include a return label in case anything is not to your liking. If you don't have the details of your prescription, they will contact your eye doctor.

This is all brilliantly simple, and I wish I'd known about them before I ordered my most recent glasses. There's no guarantee they would have what I wanted, but a couple of their styles are pretty close to what I ended up getting. At the moment their selection is a bit limited (currently 19 styles for men, 27 for women) and there's no way to get prescription sunglasses, but I imagine that as time goes by, they will add some new styles and colors.

By the way, I'm not shilling for Warby Parker or anything like that. I don't know them, and they don't know me. I just think this is a good idea that deserves some notice. Everyone likes getting a good deal, and I like sharing good deals with you. I may give them a try at some point anyway, to see if they are as good as they sound.