31 July 2010

This Week in Awesome (7/31/10)

The internet backed a truck up to my computer this week and delivered a huge shipment of awesome. When that happens, we all win:

Okay, let's just get this one out of the way first: the dog on the riding mower was everywhere this week. It's only 15 seconds long, but if it doesn't make you at least smile, you might need professional help. The Soup loved it so much, they showed it four or five times during last night's show. (Videogum via... everywhere)

Darth Vader has an iPhone 4, and he's having problems with it like everyone else. (YouTube via Cult of Mac)

Inspired mashup: Jane Austen's Fight Club. (BuzzFeed via Current TV)

Do you remember the '80s TV show The Fall Guy? I don't think I ever watched it, but it seems like it was about on par with The A-Team for crazy vehicular mayhem and stunts, if this compilation clip is any indication. (Off Road Action via Hemmings Auto Blog)

And finally, it seems like Canada's going a bit nuts these days. To wit: first, there's the guy who robbed the Starbucks, then the woman who was caught shoplifting. But I don't want to spoil these; you'll have to click through to see what makes these criminals so, um, special. I guess we're rubbing off on them, and not in a good way. (CTV and CNews, both via Consumerist)

(BTW, 28 posts in one month--a new record...)

30 July 2010

Summer of Cake

It's a lazy Friday afternoon, and I feel like indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Come along, won't you?

Ten years ago this summer, I was working for a fledgling e-commerce company. A little over a year before, we had moved from the founder's basement to a small, sparse second-floor space above some stores in Arlington Center--the company needed to start hiring more people, and there wasn't enough room in the basement anymore. Later that year, we took some additional rooms across the hall, and by the summer of 2000 the whole space was full to bursting, with desks and people squeezed into any available nook or corner.

There was a building around the corner that was undergoing a renovation and addition; the company was able to rent space in it, but it would not be available for several more months. At the same time, there was a guy working for us as a technology consultant who had an office near Kendall Square that happened to be unoccupied, so the decision was made to temporarily relocate my department and shuffle some of the other people around until the new office was ready.

In order to save some money, the bosses decided to let us move ourselves, mostly because one guy had a pickup truck. When the moving day arrived near the end of June, it of course started raining just as we finished loading the truck with, you know, expensive computer equipment, files in cardboard boxes, and other perishable stuff. We ended up driving under an unused bank drive-through for shelter until it stopped raining.

But once we got settled into our new space, things were pretty good. For one thing, it was a lot nicer than where we'd been working. The cubicle walls were actual walls, made of wood and plaster, and they were high, so not as much sound carried across them. There were no landline phones, so at first we could be reached only by email. It's amazing how well you can focus when no one can call you or come around the corner and bother you about some petty thing. Later they got us cell phones; the first ones didn't work inside the building, so they returned them and switched carriers.

We would spend Monday mornings at the "mother ship" for meetings, then retreat to our sanctuary. There was a nice kitchen, and the guy whose office it was kept the pantry stocked with all sorts of drinks and snacks and goodies. (I assume he was billing our employer for this.) At peak there were six of us in the department, but often there were only three or four of us in the office on a given day. We had an insanely powerful sound system--something about creating audio recordings for the web site, I think--and on afternoons like today, we'd blast it for hours.

This is how I met A Proper Bostonian, who preferred working from home, so sometimes she was around and sometimes she wasn't, but she always seemed to know when the tech guy had gone shopping and restocked the larder. He always got a cake from the supermarket's bakery, and in later years when we would talk and look back on our time there, she would say, "And we always had cake."

We ended up being temporarily outsourced for a little more than five four months. We moved back to the new office in November, right around Veterans' Day. On February 1st of 2001, I was laid off, along with five or six other people, so I got to work in the new office for less than three months. The company lasted another year before folding.

29 July 2010

Elizabeth Short

Today marks the date of birth in 1924 of Elizabeth Short. She became the victim of one of the most gruesome and notorious (and still unsolved) crimes in our country's history, the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder of January 1947.

I mention this mainly because she was originally from the Boston area. She was born in Hyde Park, and her family moved to Medford a few years later. As a teenager she dropped out of school and spent winters with a relative in Florida because she had respiratory problems. Later she moved to California, hoping to be discovered and break into movies, but of course that didn't happen.

I first became aware of Beth Short's unfortunate story when I read James Ellroy's novel The Black Dahlia, a fictionalized account of the case, more than two decades ago. I learned that the real case had never been solved or closed, and interest remains high more than 60 years later.

There are numerous theories and endless speculation as to who committed the crime, and there are a number of web sites about the case and about Beth Short. It's kind of amazing how much of the information is inaccurate or contradictory (that's just the internet, I guess). Of course there have been a number of books on the subject, and unfortunately many of the inaccuracies are perpetuated through those as well.

I've read two of these books, Severed by John Gilmore and Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel; I didn't know at the time, and I was kind of embarrassed to learn, that apparently neither of these is particularly well regarded, especially by writer Larry Harnisch, who wrote an article about the case for the Los Angeles Times in 1996. He maintains this web site and says he is writing his own book (though I don't see anything by him listed on Amazon).

You may remember that a movie based on Ellroy's book came out a few years ago. It's pretty terrible, and I recommend you not bother with it. I do recommend Ellroy's book, especially if you're a fan of mysteries or noir.

A mile or so from my house, there is a marker in the approximate location of her childhood home. It's on Salem Street heading west toward Medford Square, just before the rotary and ramps for route 93. (I assume the house was removed when the highway and ramps were built.) It's only a couple of feet back from the edge of the sidewalk, a large, upright piece of granite with a plaque set into it.

I had intended to take a picture of the marker to accompany this post, but I kept forgetting to bring my camera when we went in that direction (and there isn't really any good spot to pull over anyway, since it's right next to a rotary with an onramp to 93 north). In this picture you can read the plaque. I've read that when the marker was proposed in the early 1990s, there were some who opposed it. But I'm glad the city has chosen to remember Beth Short.

28 July 2010

Expense Report #16

I kind of skipped over my report this week, mostly because I was wrapped up with the Mad Men stuff on Monday, but also because... I bought stuff last week, and I felt bad about it.

I bought a couple of things I needed, like the stuff at BJ's and today's earlier story about the undershirts (and those are being returned anyway). But I was also back on the eBay crack last week, and I bid on two items, thinking I wouldn't win either, and I ended up winning both.

One was a lightly-used pair of Bass Weejuns, old enough to still have been made in the USA (so probably at least ten years old, if not more). The other? Care to guess? Those of you who rolled your eyes and said "a watch" while playing along at home, pat yourselves on the back. More on that later.

The good news? I spent only slightly more than $50 total on both items.

Gilt Feelings

I signed up for the member-only designer sale site Gilt Groupe about a year and a half ago, and while there have been some items that have interested or tempted me, a lot of what they offer is just too fashiony for my tastes, and a lot of it is still too pricey for my wallet.

I hadn't felt strongly enough about anything to make a purchase from the site until last week, when an offering dovetailed nicely with my ongoing, ridiculously difficult search for satisfactory gray undershirts. Gilt had underwear from a company called 2(x)ist, and normally the name alone would be enough to keep me away, but as I browsed idly I saw undershirts offered in white, black, or gray. Turned out they were selling them in groups of nine, all one color, for $50. This is about in line with what I've paid for them in the past, so I ordered them after making sure they were 100% cotton.

On Monday I got an email saying the order had shipped, and yesterday I got home from work to find a medium-sized flat box on my porch. Turns out their fulfillment is done out of Andover, which explains why I received it so quickly. When I got inside and opened the box, there were three three-packs of shirts bundled together inside another clear wrapper. The shirts were the kind without tags, which is fine. I could see the printed "label" through the clear packaging, which said 60% cotton/40% polyester. Oops, we have a problem.

The purchase was final sale (Gilt's items are usually returnable; maybe this one was not because it was underwear?), but I called customer service anyway. My call was answered right away, and when I explained why I was calling, and that I wouldn't have bought the shirts if the fabric content had been listed correctly, the rep immediately offered me a return label, and said that my refund would include my original shipping charge. He also made a note to inform someone about the incorrect information, even though the sale for that brand was over.

So, I'm disappointed that the purchase didn't work out, and that I have to keep looking, but I'm very satisfied with how my issue was resolved. Gilt's customer service was quick and painless, and made me feel more likely to order from them again.

27 July 2010

Discounts & Deals: Little White Pills

I've talked before about warehouse clubs. This is an example of why I find them to be worth the membership fee:

Do you take over-the-counter allergy medication? I do. About three months ago I bought a bottle of cetirizine hydrochloride tablets (the generic version of Zyrtec) at CVS, 60 tablets, regular price around $18 but I think it was on sale, or the Mrs. had one of their register-tape coupons, or something.

Last week I finished the bottle and figured I could get a better deal at BJ's, and I needed a couple of other things there anyway (toothpaste, giant box of Frosted Mini-Wheats). They had a bottle of 300 tablets for $15, which is a pretty stupendous deal, but it was made even better by a $2 "instant rebate" discount (which was automatically deducted at checkout).

If you prefer loratadine (the generic version of Claritin), the same deal applied. That's basically a year's supply, given that you will probably forget to take it now and then, and you probably don't need to take it during January and February (I don't, anyway).

But wait, there's more! Now they've gone and made the deal even better, at least online: the instant rebate has gone up to $4. I don't know if it's the same in the stores or not.

If Costco is your club of choice, don't fret: they have you covered with a similar deal, a bottle of 365 cetirizine hydrochloride pills for $16, or 300 loratadine pills for $12. Both stores also offer the brand-name medications; at BJ's the Zyrtec was about three times as much as the generic version, but for only 100 tablets, so it's really more like nine times as much. As they say, do the math. I know you have to factor in the cost of the membership, but even so you're not going to be able to match this kind of deal anywhere else.

My BJ's membership expires this week, and we chose to go back to Costco. The cost of the membership is about the same (discounted a little through my job, which is nice), but we decided we just like some things about Costco a little better.

26 July 2010

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 1: "Public Relations"

I'm not going to write these as recaps per se, because there are plenty of other places on the web where you can find those, written by professional writers and critics. I plan to post just a few thoughts each week. One tricky thing about this is that I have to avoid reading what others have written until after I've posted my own thoughts, to avoid others' ideas seeping in and coloring my own.

Blanket warning: If you're reading these on Mondays and you haven't watched the episodes yet, you should assume that there will always be some spoilers ahead, and act accordingly.

First, I'm glad the show skipped ahead almost a year. Each season has moved ahead in time from the end of the previous one, which works well for the show's structure and approach to storytelling. And after the way the principals' departure and the formation of the new agency was portrayed so thrillingly in "Shut The Door. Have A Seat," seeing mundane things like finding new office space would have been a letdown. I'd rather be jumped ahead, after all the dust has settled.

It's weird to see everyone working in the new office. I didn't realize how used to seeing the surroundings of Sterling Cooper I'd gotten. It feels a little claustrophobic with that long corridor, as opposed to the open steno-pool area back at SC, and I really hope they get a conference table--what kind of impression does that convey to potential clients?

Don is obviously uncomfortable with the attention he's getting (which, ironically, probably came about because he was so emphatic about wanting to get out from under McCann and form a new agency). It was terribly unprofessional of him to order the two guys from Jantzen out of the office, but it was also pretty funny, because they just weren't getting it.

I like Don's apartment. Wonder what rent would have been on such a place, back then? The bunk beds for the kids were a nice touch (my brother and I had them when we were young), but shouldn't Don be taking Sally and Bobby out to do something fun during his limited time with them, instead of sitting around working while they watch TV?

What was with the prostitute slapping Don? Has he always been like this? Creepy moment. And did he address Peggy as "honey" at one point? Did I hear that correctly? Also a little creepy.

More Joan, please. I think she had just that one scene where she spoke with Harry. But she has her own office!

Betty seems almost as unhappy as when she and Don were still married. I didn't find this surprising at all.

Sally, overheard from off-camera after her Thanksgiving dinner antics: "Ow, stop pinching me!"

*   *   *

One more thing, though it's not from this episode. Last week I rewatched the last two episodes from season three, and in the scene where Don and Roger come to Pete's apartment to ask him to join them in their new venture, Pete (who is faking being ill) is wearing a flannel bathrobe. I didn't catch it when I first saw the episode, but the robe is the Campbell tartan, and Pete is Peter Campbell. Perfect. Pete is just the sort who would think it was important to wear his namesake pattern.

There Will Be Writeups

Last year I posted thoughts about certain Mad Men episodes after they had aired, but I wasn't doing it in a consistent way. This season I will attempt to post something each week on Mondays, assuming I've watched the episodes as they air on Sunday nights. Look for the first one later today.

25 July 2010

This Week in Awesome: Mad Men Season 4 Bonus Edition

So here's another lovely cast photo, courtesy of AMC. Look, it's Ken! I guess we'll be seeing him at some point, even though he wasn't invited along to the new agency. And here's some stuff to keep you entertained until 10 pm Eastern time tonight...

The New York Times City Room blog has been running pieces all week under the heading "Mad Men City," placing the show in the context of Manhattan during the period when it takes place. (There are a couple of very minor spoilers, such as where the new agency's office is, and how much time will have passed since the events at the end of season 3, so if you would prefer not to know these things ahead of time, skip this one.)

New York magazine's Vulture blog talks to show creator Matthew Weiner.

(By the way, if you happen to be in New York, you can go to Times Square tonight and watch the premiere outdoors on a big screen. In the Boston area, the place to be is the Noir bar in the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square.)

You may remember last year's "MA Men" spoof. They surprised us with a sequel, just as vulgar and potentially offensive to some. (Funny or Die)

Addendum: I forgot this amusing little video compilation of some of Betty Draper's more memorable parenting moments. (Vulture)

24 July 2010

This Week in Awesome (7/24/10)

Wow, Saturday again, already? (Only one more day until the season premiere of Mad Men. Look for a special bonus edition of TWiA later just for MM stuff.)

Meanwhile, this week's selections will make you go "Huh?" or "Why?" I didn't plan it, it just worked out that way...

Have you ever had the urge to carry wine hidden on your person? Are you a lady? Then there's a product that's just perfect for you. (The Cut via She Finds)

How about a microwave shake? No, that's not a typo. (I Hate My Message Board via Consumerist)

Hypothetically, if you decided to commit a robbery, and you were aware enough to realize you needed to cover your face to disguise your identity, what would you use? Whatever answer you thought of, it's probably not the one this woman chose. (Consumerist via News9)

I've referenced the site Everything Is Terrible! here a couple of times. Those guys go to great lengths to find the weirdest, most obscure, and just plain worst material from pre-internet days, to preserve for posterity. Here's a nice little collection of some of their favorite 80s/90s videotape finds. (Everything Is Terrible! via Vulture)

23 July 2010

Plaid Shorts Fridays

I'm fortunate that every day is casual day for me, so naturally I wear shorts all summer. (I did have a temp job a few years back with a dress code that prohibited shorts, but was otherwise casual.) But I'm careful to dress neatly, so it's clear that I'm dressed for work and not for goofing off: button-front shirts get tucked in, polos are untucked but have reasonably short tails and are not baggy. My shorts are flat-front and to the knee, with a belt, but no cargos in the office--those are strictly for weekends. Shoes are either dark tan boat shoes, khaki canvas sneakers, or white leather Pumas with an oatmeal-colored stripe.

To mix things up a little, I started doing what I've been calling Plaid Shorts Fridays. On most days I wear solid shorts, somewhere on the spectrum from off-white to khaki, which I can wear with either solid or patterned shirts. Plaid shorts look best with a simple, solid-color top like a polo shirt, so I've picked out some combinations that have a little extra pop, or just go together well, like olive, navy, and cream plaid shorts with an ivory polo, or gray plaid shorts with a thin line of blue in them with a royal blue polo. I can probably get through the entire summer without repeating any of these Friday outfits.

It never occurred to me to take any pictures, because I wasn't planning on writing about this until I thought of it while getting dressed this morning. Today's outfit is shorts in a gray and khaki plaid that I got last year at the Gap outlet up in Kittery, with a light khaki polo that I got at Uniqlo in New York three summers ago.

22 July 2010

Watch Wednesday Thursday (7/22/10)

Last night, when I went to look through my watches to decide which one to post, I discovered that I don't have any more modern watches that I haven't already featured. Yikes! There are still at least a few vintage watches to cover, but it seems I've exhausted all of my contemporary choices.

I'd been thinking about what I might do to keep this series going in some way, short of buying more watches (which is always an option, and you and I both know it's going to happen eventually). So I'm going to inaugurate what I'll call the Watch Wednesday Wrist Want, where I will highlight watches (which may be either modern or vintage) that I would be buying if money were no object. (Many bloggers do this all the time with shoes, cars, audio/video gear, and just about everything else.)

So, I present the Tudor Heritage Chrono, which was introduced in March at the big watch industry trade show in Basel, Switzerland. In a way, this is both a modern and a vintage watch, because it's based on a Tudor model from the 1970s (hence the "Heritage" in the name) that was nicknamed the "Monte Carlo" for its dial's resemblance to a roulette wheel.
(Image borrowed from Hodinkee, but I think it originated somewhere else)

I love the way this watch has been updated: the tapered yet substantial hands, the hour markers in the shape similar to the Tudor shield logo, the knurled texture on the knobs and crown, the orange detailing, the way the 1 through 12 hour markings have switched places with the 5-10-15 markers that would traditionally appear on the bezel. In fact, it's more appealing to me than the original.

I also love that there is a choice of a black dial with gray subdials as shown above, or the reverse combination (I would definitely want it in gray with black subdials). I even like the color-coordinated nylon strap (something I don't usually care for), though if I were to own one of these, I would eventually switch it to a black leather strap with orange contrast stitching.

This was a love at first sight moment for me, with a nearly instantaneous desire to start selling all of my possessions, including my other watches, in an attempt to come up with the funds to buy one. Fortunately, that urge passed, and anyway, acquiring one of these isn't going to be easy for a couple of reasons. Tudor does not sell its products anywhere in the US at the moment. The watch seems to be on sale in only a few European countries so far, and the list price in euros converts to around $4000 USD.

Some of them have been popping up on eBay, naturally, and selling for about a $1K premium above that, which amounts to a very steep "need to be first" tax. For those with the means and a bit more patience, the watch will be available in Canada in the fall. If I mention any trips north of the border, you'll know why...

21 July 2010

Boarding Pass

So, this has been rattling around in my head for a bit...

T riders: when you board a train, do you choose what car or section to get on based on where you want to be when you need to exit?

I've always done this. It's just how my Virgo brain works, but I suppose it also stems from the need to make a connection to a bus or another train, and the desire to maximize the chance of making said connection by minimizing the time spent walking from one to another.

There's an iPhone app for this pertaining to the New York subway system, which makes sense because it's so much more complex than ours, the trains and platforms are so much longer, and stations often have multiple exits.

20 July 2010


Yesterday the braces came off my upper teeth, after about 17-1/2 months. This felt a lot more significant than when I had the lowers removed a few weeks back, probably because the uppers went on first, and because the major phase of the process is now over.

My palate did not open up quite as much as I'd hoped, so I don't think I'll be experiencing any remarkable end to my snoring, but the alignment problems that plagued my teeth my whole life are gone, which was really the more important goal, and most of my cross-bite has been eradicated.

Now come several months of fine-tuning, starting with wearing clear, molded plastic temporary retainers. I'll go back in a month and the dentist will look at how the teeth are settling in, and what sort of adjustments he might want to make.

Eating is now much easier than it's been in quite some time, since I don't have wires trapping bits of food. I also have a new appreciation for proper brushing technique, and I've acquired a Sonicare gadget, which is supposed to be the cat's pajamas for keeping your teeth ultra-clean--we'll see.

19 July 2010

Expense Report #15

I had to buy medication and food for the dog this past week, but I don't consider that discretionary. Having a pet means accepting the accompanying expenditures for vet visits, food, and such. A bag of food for her lasts a month or so, and the Mrs. and I alternate paying for it. This time around it happened to be on sale, which is unusual, so we're going to go back before the sale ends at the end of the month and get another bag.

Elsewhere, I made another pass through the sale section of the Lands' End site. I had put some things in my shopping bag a week or so prior, and it turned out that prices on most of them had dropped further in the interim, so I went ahead and made the purchase. Because of sales at places like LE and JCPenney, it's difficult for me to consider spending more than $10 or $15 on a polo shirt, but if one ends up getting stained, or doesn't fit right after a year or two, then it's no big deal to just replace it. I got two.

I also grabbed a pair of madras shorts and a long-sleeve knit henley that I will use as a layer come fall--I picked up three of these last year from J. Crew (on sale, of course) and I found that they worked well with a T-shirt underneath and a flannel shirt on top for weekend wear. Total for four items: about $55.

17 July 2010

This Week in Awesome (7/17/10)

This was a busier than normal week for me at work, so I didn't have quite as much time to goof off look for cool stuff to post here. But I think we'll all be just fine...

I don't know who hired this guy to DJ their party, but it's a good thing he remembered to bring his glasses. (Videogum)

Remember the Snuggie? How could you forget? Well, there have been some, uh, enhancements. (Consumerist via YouTube)

Louis C.K. was on The Joy Behar Show, presumably to talk about his new FX show Louie (which is great, and you should watch it), but the conversation got a bit, uh, sidetracked. (YouTube via Videogum)

Planning your next kidnapping? Maybe you should use this handy ransom note generator. (Very Short List)

16 July 2010

T Etiquette: Refresher Course

I guess the heat has boiled everyone's brains, because it seems like people have forgotten the basics of deportment while riding our transit system. So it's time for some remedial instruction (appropriate since it's summer, when those who have failed typically have to attend make-up classes):

To the guy leaning against the pole, pretending to be oblivious while noodling away on your iPhone: thanks so much for preventing four or five other riders from having something within comfortable arm's reach to hang onto. It's not as big a deal for me, because I'm tall and have long arms, but some of the shorter folks can't reach the horizontal bars or even the hanging straps, and anyway, being such a dick so early in the morning is just uncalled for.

And to the guy yesterday afternoon who had your backpack parked on the seat next to you (who, interestingly, kind of looked like the other guy): yeah, that's right, I stood in front of you and said "Is this yours?" in a loud voice while pointing at the bag, thereby shaming you into picking it up so I could sit down. It didn't seem to make a difference, though, because at the next stop the person sitting on the other side of you got off and you just slid it onto that seat. But then a stop later another person did basically the same thing I did and you were forced to hold the bag on your lap, like the rest of us manage to do. Poor you.

14 July 2010

Grooming Garage: Razor Fatigue

I just came across this interesting Wall Street Journal article from a couple of days ago, about men who are weary of keeping up with the razor companies' ongoing blade-upmanship games, and have adopted a variety of strategies to avoid participating in them.

13 July 2010

Emmy Nominations: Gripefest '10

I know I'm a few days behind with this, but there are a couple of factors in play: one, I do this mainly for my own amusement, whereas if I was getting paid to write about television, it would have been my duty to get my comments out there quickly; two, your intrepid blogger has acquired some new responsibilities at work, some of which occur weekly, so I've recently been a bit busier than usual. But even if I can't spend as much time on this subject as I'd like to, you know I have opinions about it.

First, I think it's important to acknowledge that, in general, the academy did a good job this year. Of course, there are still a few instances of legacyitis, the notorious affliction that causes the academy to nominate shows or actors that are past their freshness date, while ignoring other quality shows and talented actors--some new, some not so new--who deserved nominations.

Perfect example: Friday Night Lights. I don't even watch this show (I can only manage to keep up with so many shows at a given time), but I know that every critic thinks it's great and every year they say it should have been nominated. (Both its lead actors finally got nominated, so that's something.) It's absurd for the academy to continue to deny it a best drama nomination, particularly in light of the nomination of Lost after what, with a couple of months' distance, we can now see clearly was a mediocre final season. House also had a so-so season, and it was justifiably left off the list this year.

I would also say that True Blood falls more in the category of a guilty pleasure than a show that should be nominated in this category. Perhaps its slot could have been filled by Justified, which turned out to be much better than I'd expected. The rest of the nominees--Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Good Wife, and Mad Men--all deserve to be here.

Similarly, the best comedy category again has The Office. As much as I've loved this show, sadly it has lost its magic, and since Steve Carell has announced that he will be leaving after next season, I sincerely hope that NBC will realize that it's time to end the show. (Odds of that happening: very tiny.) Most critics feel its spot on the list should have gone to The Big Bang Theory, though I think you could also make the argument that if a freshman series like Modern Family got nominated, then maybe NBC's Community should have as well. After seeing the "chicken fingers"/GoodFellas spoof and paintball episodes again recently, I realized just how solid this show was all season, and how high points like these elevated it even more.

Mad Men submitted Elisabeth Moss in the supporting actress category (where I said last year she belonged), freeing space for January Jones to finally get her much-deserved nomination. Ms. Moss is keeping company with SAR fave Christina Hendricks, who also got nominated. Their characters may be unhappy, but all three ladies should be very proud of their work.

Of course, I have quibbles with the acting categories, too. I sure would have liked to see Anna Gunn get a nod for her amazing work on Breaking Bad; did Law & Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay really need another nomination? I don't even think there were any "very special" (read: overacting) Detective Benson episodes this season.

And then of course there are the by-now perennial nominations for Tony Shalhoub for Monk (which thankfully has ended, so he can't get any more) and Jon Cryer for Two and a Half Men. I'd hate to think he's the reason Ed O'Neill was the only adult actor on Modern Family not to get a nod. I think it's a little curious that Aaron Paul got nominated as supporting actor for Breaking Bad instead of lead, but I'm sure it's so he doesn't get in the way of Bryan Cranston's chance of a third consecutive win for lead actor. I was very disappointed that John Noble didn't get noticed for the outstanding work he did as Walter Bishop on Fringe; I thought he was much more deserving than Martin Short, who got nominated for his work on Damages.

I've never watched Glee, and I never will. But I think maybe the academy just got a little over-excited about it because it's different from other comedies. Certainly no one is going to complain if Jane Lynch wins supporting actress, because she's just awesome no matter what she's in. But even before the nominations, there had already been some backlash floating around, a little surprising for a show that's just finished its first season. Remember one thing: the creator of Glee, Ryan Murphy, was also the guy behind Nip/Tuck, and when you consider where that show started, and where it ended, it has to make you wonder a little.

12 July 2010

Expense Report #14

This was a light week, spending-wise. I guess I should strive for all of them to be so.

I bought another pair of those obscure Polo cargo shorts on eBay for $12. I now have four pairs of these, all found on eBay for $10 to $15 each. Still trying to find a pair in the light khaki or "stone" color that I had some years back (that I grew too large for). Cargos aren't fashionable, but they are useful when the things I need to carry with me, like a hard eyeglass case and now a retainer case, are too big for the pockets of regular shorts.

And after nearly six months, I ordered a proper case for my Pre smartphone, so I can stop using the cloth "sock" that came with it. That was $20.

As the end draws near for Martin + Osa, the remaining stock on the web site is 50% off. We went to the mall one night last week so the Mrs. could pay her Macy's bill, and I went to the M+O store to see what was left. The clerk I know there told me the remaining store stock had just gone to 50% off that day, which was surprising considering how close they are to closing for good (this coming Sunday), and that the web site had been at 50% for at least a couple of weeks.

There were one or two items I was still kind of interested in, but my sizes were gone, and it's not really worth it to me to order them from the web site and have to pay shipping. Just as well, I guess. I'm mentioning it more as a shopping tip for anyone who might be interested.

10 July 2010

This Week in Awesome (7/10/10)

What, Saturday already? That's how it always feels when there's a Monday holiday. But you know I've still been out there on the webs, searching for stuff to share with you.

I can think of all kinds of reasons why an inflatable pub is a bad idea, but still, points for originality. (The Sun UK via The Awl)

Remember Awkward Family Photos? Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief, because now there's Awkward Family Pet Photos. (UrbanDaddy)

This clip is part of some contest where people have to pitch a movie idea in 60 seconds or less. Seriously, this sounds better than at least half the movies being released these days. (Videogum)

If the Twilight movies were made for a male audience, they might look something like this. (Socialite Life)

09 July 2010

True Beauty

Let's elevate the mood, shall we? It's Friday afternoon, and we want to see something nice. Something pretty, and sparkly, and wonderful:
Christina Hendricks is a goddess, put here to brighten and beautify our lives. The interview, and more lovely pictures, here. And, congratulations to her for her Emmy nomination. (As usual, I'll post my thoughts about the nominations soon.)

Sixteen days until season four, kids. (Los Angeles Times Magazine photo)

Window of Futility

We have a working TiVo again, but of course the service call got screwed up. I had figured that a morning appointment was my best chance to make it to work within a couple of hours of when I'd normally get there, and if things had gone properly I would have.

My appointment window was from 8 to 11 AM. When no one had showed or called by 11:15 (the tech typically calls first to say he's on the way), I called Comcast, and was told the tech had tried to call me at 9:07 and had gotten no answer. Now, I wanted to believe them, but I know that this is completely untrue. I was showered and dressed by 8, just in case I happened to be the first call of the day, and I never strayed from the vicinity of the phone for the entire three hours.

In fact, I know my phone never even rang, because it would have shown up on the phone as a missed call. And after this conversation, they called me back just to make sure they had the right number on file. So maybe the tech attempted to call and the connection never went through, but that's as close to truth as I'm going to allow.

Anyway, typical service-call bullshit. I was able to get another appointment for the middle of the afternoon, and this time they did call me, and showed up shortly after, and got the CableCard working with no difficulty. So, much rejoicing, TV shows when we choose to watch them, etc.

08 July 2010

Watch Wednesday Thursday (7/8/10)

While I'm at home this morning waiting for Comcast, let's talk about my most recent watch purchase (since we were supposed to do it yesterday...).

Today Seiko is a well-known brand, but it wasn't always that way. In the 1960s, American watch companies like Bulova and Timex dominated the middle and lower portions of the market (largely because most people couldn't afford a prestige Swiss watch like an Omega or a Rolex). In its home market Seiko was producing lots of great watches, but they wouldn't make an impact in this country until the rise of quartz and digital watches in the 1970s.

This is an automatic-movement Seiko Sportsmatic that I believe is from the late 1960s. (There's a number on the case back that might lead to more info, but I haven't attempted to look for any yet.) I make this estimate based on its features and appearance: I've seen an earlier model with just the date and without the "5" on the dial (that still appears on Seikos to this day, including the one I bought a couple of months ago), and the case is of a very traditional shape, suggesting it predates the more adventurous designs of the '70s.

The earlier model that I saw for sale online quite some time ago is what got me interested in getting one of these for myself. It had the same almost-black dial, but when I started searching on eBay, I saw only watches with silver dials for a long time. Also, one of the things I like best about this watch is the italic lettering chosen for "Seiko Sportsmatic," and most of the watches I was seeing had to be later versions, because they had the "SEIKO" lettering applied (glued on) to the dial in larger, all capital letters (the modern version of their logo that we're accustomed to seeing), and "Sportsmatic" underneath, also in capital letters but painted on. This watch's lettering not only looks nicer, it announces in a very subtle way that it's a vintage piece.

I also like the silver ring around the outside of the dial, which provides some contrast and ties in to the hour markers and hands. And don't you love those pointy (sorry, "dauphine") hands? Also present if you look closely is the crown at the 4 position, which was something of a Seiko hallmark that Bulova appropriated for certain Accutron models of the same era. It has one extra-cool feature that Accutrons did not: if you push in on the crown, it advances the date with a nice, solid thunk.

However, I have no idea if this watch is capable of doing the day-advance trick that I figured out I could do with my Caravelle world time watch; Seiko seems to have designed the crown to be nearly unnoticeable when it's not pulled out for setting, which is cool, but to accomplish this the crown is very thin in profile and has hardly any edge surface, making it very difficult to grab securely. It's so awkward to use that I am considering sacrificing some of that flushness and having it replaced with one that is a little easier to handle.

And as I'm sure you noticed, I don't yet have a strap for this watch. I got it into my head that this watch needs to be on a medium brown strap, which is somewhat unusual for me--it's probably because the original Sportsmatic I saw for sale online was on a brown strap, and I thought it looked really good. I did order some straps from The Watch Prince, including a brown one, but it was too light and looked kind of orange, so I returned it. None of the other straps I bought seem right for this watch, so I'm still looking for something suitable.

06 July 2010

TiVo Trauma II: The Sequel

For the past several weeks, we've been living in a sort of TV purgatory due to another round of TiVo problems. An errant power surge was not the cause this time; I addressed that with a beefier surge protector block for the entire A/V setup, and I'm considering adding an uninterruptible power supply, which is basically a battery backup, the type of thing people sometimes use with their computers.

No, this time the unit was faulty. It had a couple of instances where the sound would disappear, necessitating a manual restart (which takes about five minutes), and sometimes it wouldn't fix the sound problem the first restart cycle. After I'd had it about two months, it started rebooting itself at random. The first time that occurred was while we were watching a previously recorded show. The random restarts got more frequent, and one or two times they happened while the unit was turned off.

Then it started getting stuck in the restart cycle, and the only way to get it to work right again was to leave it unplugged for a while. 12 to 24 hours would buy us another couple of days of use until the next random reboot. So this meant that not only could we not record shows, we couldn't even watch shows we had already recorded. Fortunately the TV watching schedule is lighter during the summer months, but it's still hugely inconvenient, and it's my fault for not contacting them the first time it happened.

I finally did contact tech support (tip: the wait is usually much shorter if you do it via live web chat, and you don't have to sit through the incessant, very annoying marketing barrage that interrupts the incessant, very annoying hold music every 20 seconds or so) and after nearly an hour of unplugging and restarting I was instructed on how to perform a diagnostic test, but at that point I needed to disconnect from the conversation. When I attempted to run the test a few days later, the unit rebooted during the test. I tried again a few days after that and the same thing happened.

When I contacted support again, I was told that the diagnostic is supposed to repair any problems the unit might be having, so that made it pretty clear to them that it was defective. But at that point I had to contact support via phone, and I found out that the phone support person had to open a whole new case, even though I already had an open case file from my chat sessions. I'm sorry, but that's just a really fucking stupid way to handle customer support, and I don't care if anyone from TiVo sees this.

During that conversation (which I waited ten minutes on hold to have), the rep tried to get me to go through all the stuff I had already done, but I told her to look at the written chat transcript in my file where the rep clearly stated "your unit is obviously defective... you will need to contact support by phone to discuss replacement options." I was insistent, and it got the rep to initiate my replacement order.

But wait, there's more... the HD TiVo units require two CableCards, which serve as tuners. When I had to swap out the unit back in March, I pulled the CableCards and popped them into the new unit, and they just worked. Apparently this is highly unusual, and this time I had no such luck. So I called Comcast yesterday (tip: there's usually a local number on your bill, or at least some other number than 888-COMCAST, and it gets you talking to people who are likely in your service area; in my case, they happen to be about half a mile down the street).

The tech support rep was really nice, but after going through some steps with me to attempt to configure the cards, he said a tech would have to come to my house. That's happening Thursday morning, so until then I have a working TiVo but no way to record anything on it. Technology is great, until it doesn't work.

05 July 2010

Expense Report #13

Last week I got an email from J. Crew regarding the reward points I earn by using their credit card. They were wondering where I'd been, and they missed me. Okay, I made that up, But I did get an email from them, and I thought it said that I needed to spend a certain amount of money by June 30th to accumulate enough points to earn a $25 reward card.

So on Wednesday, the 30th, I stopped by the Copley store. They had a decent sale section again, and I couldn't help feeling like I should have stopped by sooner, that I was missing out on some good deals. In truth, a lot of the deals were mediocre, and this is the sort of thing I keep reminding myself in order to curtail my spending urges.

After talking with one of the sales clerks, I came to understand that I had misinterpreted the email: I wasn't going to lose any reward points if I didn't make a purchase, but I would have to wait until the next quarter to receive the reward card if I didn't spend X dollars. Silly me. So, pressure off, I put back a couple of the things I was holding; the reward card will have to wait a little longer.

But I did end up getting a great deal on a pair of J. Crew's jeans, which I love but which normally sell for around $100. These are kind of an olive brown color ("dill") and in their "vintage slim" cut, which is nice and trim but not uncomfortably tight or low. They had multiple markdown tags on them, from $98 to $70 to $40 to $20, and there was another 20% off that, so I got them for $16. I won't wear them until fall, but at that point they will go nicely with a lot of my shirts and sportcoats.

04 July 2010

This Week in Awesome (7/3/10)

Happy 4th of July, everyone. Yes, I know I didn't post this yesterday. I did say that the schedule might get iffy...

First things first: fireworks safety is very important today. (Funny or Die)

Do you ever think about the room vignettes that are styled and photographed for catalogs like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel? Me neither. But someone does, and they obviously have tons of free time, because they have gone so far as to create characters and a back story. (Racked)

Earlier this week, a young woman robbed a shoe store in New York. She did so while wearing a cat mask. The police issued a wanted poster that is quite possibly the greatest thing ever. (This even made it onto The Soup.) Later, some extremely fuzzy video surveillance footage was released, showing the woman walking into the store without the mask and then putting it on. Needless to say, the suspect is still at large. (The Awl)

And now for the dorky retro arcana portion of the program, so if this isn't your thing you can just stop here. Charles is a gentleman who lives in England but grew up in Boston and has fond memories of shopping downtown when there were many fine stores, none of which still exist. He posts his recollections, with lots of old photos and newspaper ads, to share with everyone at Shopping Days In Retro Boston.

And in a similar vein, I stumbled across a site filled with info about the old days of telephone numbers, when the exchange (the first two or three digits, for you youngsters) was referred to by a word, and the letters in those words corresponded to the numbers on the dial, and the words usually had some connection to the geographic area that contained those phone numbers (example: the Boston exchange 536 was for KENmore). Like I said, arcana.

01 July 2010

How's My Spending?

It's been three months since I started making the effort to be more mindful about my discretionary spending, so it seems like a good time to take a look at how my habits have changed, and how much. I'm giving myself a financial report card, so to speak.

While I do not consider myself a compulsive shopper, I had gotten into a mindset of buying things more or less at will, without much regard to how much I was spending. I wasn't buying expensive things, but I was buying a lot of less expensive things. On average I was spending about as much in a given month as I was comfortably able to pay on my credit card each month, which would have been fine if I wasn't carrying a balance in the thousands of dollars, from my braces and other things.

I have forced myself to curtail my impulses and make choices. If I do decide to buy something, I have to make up for it by resisting the urge to buy something else. One thing in my favor is that warm-weather clothing is less interesting to me, so I tend to buy less clothing at this time of year. I have made some clothing purchases, which I've talked about in my weekly posts, but mainly just inexpensive items like polo shirts.

The big thing for me has been avoiding temptation by cutting back on the amount of time I spend looking for stuff on eBay. The less time I spend looking, the less I find to be tempted by. I've bought two watches in the past three months. but I also resisted buying at least two others. I have stayed away from other eBay temptations like shoes and outerwear, because those are the categories where I tend to make iffy purchases that, for one reason or another, I end up not wanting to keep.

As a result of this, I still have a fair amount of stuff that I would like to sell. I'm off for the next four days, so I should try to make some time to take pictures of the items I want to list. And as is frequently the case during long weekends, posting activity may be lighter than normal.