31 January 2011

Planning Behind

Even though I've had a smartphone for a year, I don't tend to use the calendar function much. I mean, I use it sometimes when I need to look at a visual representation of a calendar and I'm not at home or at the office (where they are conveniently hung on the wall). But I don't use it to keep track of appointments and important dates. I just prefer to write things down, I think because it gives me a better chance of remembering them.

For the past several years I have been using a Moleskine combination planner book/notebook. These come in several variations; I prefer the kind that shows the week vertically on the left pages, and has ruled lines on the right pages to make notes about whatever I want. For example, this is how I keep track of my online bill payments each month, just as a kind of backup to the confirmation emails.

This year, I didn't remember that I needed a new book until I came back to work on January 3rd. Last year I think I bought one at Porter Square Books, but I haven't been over that way in some time, and it's way out of the way for me to go there after work. I kept meaning to stop by the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center, which is more or less on my way home, but with the ridiculous weather and the days I haven't even come into the office and the days I've had to head home from work early to take care of the dog, it just kept slipping back on the priority list.

I finally made it there one night last week, and of course I was way too late: anything calendar-related that remained in the store was marked down to at least half-price and piled on a small table, but there was very little left in general. Moleskine doesn't seem to sell its products directly online, but I figured other places must. A little searching got me to the Barnes & Noble online store, where I hadn't visited in several years. Not only did they still have the notebook I wanted in stock, but it was still half-price. A couple of CDs I'd been wanting to get (yeah, I still buy CDs) got me over the free-shipping threshold.

At this point, a month into the year, I would have preferred to find this item in a local store, but then what's a few more days to wait until it arrives?

29 January 2011

This Week in Awesome (1/29/11)

Wow, yesterday just completely disappeared down some rabbit hole. Got up, had a crappy commute, worked, had another crappy commute, sat down in front of the TV with some food and a beer to unwind. But now it's Saturday, which means it's time for your regular weekend dose of awesome...

This is a bit late, but it just came to my attention: the 50 most loathsome people of 2010. Naturally, some of them are political, but some are not. (Buffalo Beast via Unlikely Words)

Infographic time: a map of the United States showing what each state is worst in. (Pleated Jeans via The Hairpin)

This one isn't so much awesome as, well, I feel bad for you if you're in a situation where you need this sort of thing. And I feel compelled to point out that, with only three tumblers, there are only 1000 possible combinations, so it wouldn't really take that long for the person you are theoretically protecting your precious ice cream from to run through all of them. Just saying.

I hope you are familiar with the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which contains what many people feel is the greatest car chase ever put on film. (I concur, though I think the final chase in Ronin comes pretty close.) This is an excellent interview with the man who did the stunt driving for McQueen in the movie, with plenty of accompanying photos and video clips. (JazzWax via Jalopnik)

A Thought

So after looking at those pictures, do you think we should do some sort of pool for when the snow will be gone from around my house?

27 January 2011

Drifts and Piles

Gee, more snow. Quite a bit more, in fact—this storm left about ten inches. As a result, the drifts in front of our house are getting kind of high. Today, after I finished shoveling, I got my camera and took a few pictures:
Here's the big pile at the corner of our driveway, with a secondary pile visible behind it. These are mainly from clearing the driveway and the sidewalk, plus what gets tossed in by the plows that has to be removed. (We live on what the city considers a key artery, so we never have to worry about the street being plowed, but the flip side of that is the excess that comes in whenever a plow passes.)

The pile in front is now about as tall as me, so six feet high. After the first big storm in December, I had a cleared space from the sidewalk in front of the steps out to the street (that dip in the middle to the right of the tree), but it got plowed in so many times I lost the will to keep it clear.
Here's the pile on the other side of the driveway. Technically this is in front of our neighbor's house, but he doesn't mind me throwing it there.
The driveway is long enough to hold four cars, but we have only the one, so we don't bother clearing the whole thing, because, hell, I'd still be out there. This leaves enough room for a second car to park behind ours, and a wide enough walkway for one of us and the dog.
This is the walkway on the opposite side of the house. Normally I do two shovel widths, but one was all I could handle today. This tends to turn into solid ice (from melting snow dripping off the roof) soon after a storm, so we tend to not use it until there's a thaw.
And this is the house of a neighbor that I have to pass each morning on the way to the bus stop. He owns a truck with a plow, and he usually uses it to plow the sidewalk after storms. This is less than ideal, since he can't clear around the pole with the plow and I guess he's too lazy to get out of his truck and use a shovel, but it's better than nothing. After the storm two weeks ago he didn't plow, so I've gotten to enjoy walking in the street each morning. Today it looks like he actually plowed snow from the street onto the sidewalk, making it worse, which makes no sense. I may have to send this picture to the city.

26 January 2011

Bargain Alert: Extra Discounts on Clearance

I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but Lands' End Canvas is offering an additional 40% off everything in their sale section, through tonight. J. Crew has a similar offer (also ending tonight), but their stock is quite picked over, and their prices were significantly higher to start.

As far as LEC, it's mostly fall stuff, with a few things from last summer as well, and all of it has already been marked down substantially. To give you an idea, I got a flannel shirt for $10, a pair of chinos for $10, a pair of shorts for $10, and a polo shirt for $6. Crazy, huh?

And buying things to wear in the summer makes me feel just a tiny bit warmer inside in the face of this nasty winter.

25 January 2011

Strange Noises Unit

Every day, at around 12:25 pm, we hear a strange noise at work. It's kind of a cross between a howl and a siren, and it lasts for two or three seconds. It sounds to me like it's coming from the office on the other side of the wall from where I now sit, but one of my coworkers who sits nearby says that she was outside one day at that time and heard it very plainly, so she believes it originates from somewhere outside our building.

It's all very odd. I'm old enough to recall hearing a civil defense siren go off each evening at 6 pm in the city where I grew up, but that lasted for 15 seconds or so. We have not been able to come up with any credible ideas as to what the source of the sound might be, or any businesses nearby in Brigham Circle that would have reason to sound off in such a way. We'll figure it out eventually, but it's going to take some time.

24 January 2011

The Heavy-Duty Gear

Well, winter has gotten serious. It's been a while since we've had temps below zero (2005, according to the news); it was -1 when I got up this morning, and actually went down a degree before I'd left the house, however that can be.

[I have a coworker who is a native of Minnesota, so of course she scoffs at the somewhat overblown reaction to this; to her, this is normal winter weather.]

Being a public-transit commuter means you have to be prepared to stand outside in weather like this. In the past I've mentioned my flannel-lined pants and jeans and my insulated boots, but a morning like this one calls for something with a bit more cold-fighting power. I headed down to the basement and broke out the black Eddie Bauer down parka that I've had for more than 15 years.

I purchased this coat in the winter of 1994-95, when there was still an EB retail store on Boylston Street, across from where the Borders and "Filene's Basement" (this will always appear in quotes until such time as the real Basement reopens, if that ever happens) are now.

At the time I was still working as a book buyer in the gift shop of a local cultural institution, but I had a second part-time job at the Huntington Theatre on the front-of-house staff, which had a jacket-and-tie dress code. I needed a coat that I could wear over a a sport jacket in very cold weather; at the time I owned a trench coat, but it was woefully inadequate below about 30 degrees, plus whatever substance was used as a lining between the outer and inner layers of fabric made a crinkling noise when I wore it out in the cold, so it had to go.

I have no idea how I became aware of this coat, but it was probably from stopping in the store to browse. I do remember that it went on sale in January, for about 1/3 off its original price of $200. I liked its appearance because the horizontal, tubular down chambers (I think they're called baffles) were not visible from the outside of the coat; the exterior is plain, smooth fabric without the visible seams common to down outerwear that I've always disliked so much.

At the time I was earning around $20K a year from my main job, so the primary reason I was working a second job was to accelerate paying off my student loans, and I was diligently dedicating all the money I earned from it to that purpose. But we also received tips from the theater's concessions and coat check, which we divided after each show among those of us who worked that shift.

I quickly realized that if I held onto the tips I received, instead of just adding them into my pocket after each shift, I could accrue enough over the course of a show's run (I was working an average of three shifts a week for the four or five weeks each show ran) to buy myself a present, so to speak, something that I might otherwise not be in a position to buy. And tips were better during the winter, because of the coat check, so that's how I paid for the coat.

Over the years I have needed it only occasionally; in fact, it's just too warm to wear most of the time. It only really makes sense to wear when the temperature drops below about 15 and the wind cranks up, otherwise it's just too warm. It has a hood; I hate hoods, but considering the parameters of its usefulness, having a hood is actually quite appreciated when I need to wear it. And the hood warps around in front into a chin piece, which adds a little extra wind protection for my lower face.

A couple of winters ago I was going through my clothes and considered donating the coat to a shelter. But then we have a day like this one, and I'm really glad I still have it.

22 January 2011

This Week in Awesome (1/22/11)

This winter's getting a little nuts. We're supposed to get another big storm next week. I wouldn't mind it quite so much if the assholes in my neighborhood would clear their fucking sidewalks. But I digress...

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's inauguration, and it got a fair amount of media coverage. Some time back, at least a year ago, I listened to Kennedy's inauguration speech on the Kennedy Library web site and found it quite moving. It's inspirational, of course, as we all know, but it's also a serious and sober assessment of the state of the world at the time, with the threat of atomic weapons hanging over everyday life. Now the library has the video of the speech available, and I highly recommend taking 15 minutes or so and watching it.

We haven't shared a time-lapse video in a while; this one of New York is beautiful and well done. (Vimeo)

This video spoofing both Jersey Shore and LA's particular flavor or hipsterdom got by me when it was released, but it's worth a look. (Funny or Die)

Serious geekery: you can now get a Hot Wheels car with a camera built into it, so you can do track-view videos. (Dvice via Jalopnik)

And finally, did you hear about all those organized crime arrests this week? The Village Voice has done us all the great service of compiling a list of 20 of the arrestees and their nicknames. My personal favorite? "Vinny Carwash." (Kempt)

21 January 2011

Intended for Mature Audiences

Last year I mentioned (scroll down to the last few paragraphs of that post) that the British spy show Spooks (known in this country as MI-5) was airing on Boston PBS station WGBH. I watched the first four seasons several years back when they aired on A&E, and five more have aired in the UK since that time. (Season 9 aired in the fall of 2010, and the BBC has announced a tenth season for later this year.)

I wanted to get back into the show but since it had been four years, I thought it would be a good idea to watch those episodes again (I remembered that season 4 ended with a cliffhanger). Additionally, WGBH was promising to show the complete, full-length episodes as they had aired in the UK (the A&E broadcasts had been edited to allow for commercials), so I started recording them.

Because of WGBH's inconsistent scheduling (the show would disappear off the schedule for a month at a time during fundraising periods), I soon grew frustrated and switched to Netflix, which has most episodes of the show available for streaming. For whatever obscure reason that likely has something to do with international rights, seasons 5 and 8 are available from Netflix only on DVD, so I switched back to the physical discs to get through season 5.

During my holiday break, I finished season 5 and jumped back to watching seasons 6 and 7 via streaming. I happened to look at the WGBH web site during this time to see if they were still airing the show, and if so, where they were in the series. In a bit of luck, season 8 was scheduled to begin airing on Friday nights starting in January, so I added it back into my TiVo's to-do list. (Of course, I could go back to Netflix and get the discs to finish season 8 if I want to, and not have to wait for the episodes to air.)

While I feel that the show isn't quite as compelling now as in its earlier seasons, and at times has even become somewhat predictable, it's still fairly entertaining, and its plots are often just a few millimeters off from the realm of events that could actually happen. But I have noticed one curious thing about WGBH's broadcasts.

When I was a young and highly impressionable lad in the 1970s, PBS had the reputation of being somewhat freer with broadcast standards than the big networks. At about age 11 I was introduced to the glory of Monty Python's Flying Circus (airing on WGBH), and although I didn't understand some of the cultural and historical references or know all of the British slang, I stuck around because topless women occasionally appeared, and as a bonus I witnessed some of the greatest sketch comedy ever performed.

I'm not sure exactly when PBS (or maybe it's just WBGH) got timid (maybe something to do with their corporate sponsors?), but I was both amused and annoyed to find that the occasional sprinklings of curse words uttered by characters on MI-5 were being edited out. It's particularly jarring, because the entire audio track drops out for a moment, which takes you out of the show. I'm sure the BBC never bothered to get the actors to record alternate dialogue lines (as The Sopranos did, foreseeing possible syndication) because it never would have occurred to them that such a prudish step was necessary.

Frankly, it isn't. The show airs at 10 pm on Fridays; there's no reason WGBH can't air these episodes without editing out the (very) few salty words, with a warning disclaimer before the broadcasts. There's plenty of the same sort of language being used on shows on AMC, TNT, FX, and other cable channels, which are not subject to FCC restrictions but still have to answer to advertisers. This nannying business worries me; we grown-ups need to be able to make our own decisions about such things. If you're uncomfortable with a show's language or thematic content, don't watch, and don't let your kids watch.

Thank goodness MPFC has been preserved on DVD, because it certainly wouldn't be aired in its original form today.

Easy Friday

I was concerned about how this morning's trek into work would go, but I think a lot of people chose to stay home preemptively, because the roads and the T were a lot less crowded than usual. Today ended up being my easiest morning commute of this week. And as an added bonus, the office is nearly empty; I think there are four other people here, besides me.

20 January 2011

The Black House

A slow news day, as they say (do "they" still say that?), and I was trying to come up with something semi-worthwhile to post when I remembered this photo I took about three months ago (for the purpose of posting here) of a house that isn't exactly in our immediate neighborhood, but is one we drive past once a week or so:
This house is painted black, which is not a color choice you typically see on dwellings. Why? Well, just look at it. It looks wrong, like it's made of antimatter or something, like all sorts of nefarious things go on inside. (Actually, if you were going to do nefarious things, you'd probably want your house to look as normal as possible from the outside, so as not to draw undue attention.)

Whenever we go past this house, I can't help but think, Who would paint their house black? Was there any particular reason you did it? Are you going to murder me for looking at your house? That sort of thing.

And what's with that white awning? Why isn't that black? I mean, you went so far as to paint the window frames and other trim black too. I'm also a tiny bit surprised their minivan isn't black.

19 January 2011

It Wasn't Broken

I've mentioned many times that I like to tune into New England Cable News in the morning while getting ready to leave the house. I got the information I needed, and I liked the format: pretty straightforward news and information, minimal fluff, occasional humor (especially during Scott Montminy's traffic reports).

So of course I was dismayed when I read last week that NECN was revamping its morning show to be more like the national shows. I think this is a terrible idea; I've never watched Today or Good Morning America or... whatever that perennial third-place show on CBS is called, precisely because I don't care for the chatty, pseudo-living-room atmosphere.

The new NECN morning show, oh-so-imaginatively titled The Morning Show (right there, a clear indication of forthcoming vapidity), debuted this past Monday. I was up at 8 that morning, but since it was a holiday I didn't bother turning on the TV, so I checked it out yesterday and today. Two new hosts have displaced the former morning anchors, and just like the big shows they've brought in a third person (a current NECN anchor) to run through the news stories before tossing back to the hosts for fluffy time.

Now, the thing about my morning routine is, I don't really have the time to sit around and watch TV, so I'm generally just listening to it, often from the adjacent room, while I go about getting ready. Even without having to look at it, I already hate this show, its hosts, and its format so much I won't bother to tune in anymore. Maybe, maybe if they'd kept Mike Nikitas and Karen Swensen around to ease viewers into the idea of the new format, it wouldn't be quite so bad. But the new hosts are just phony, synthetic talking heads, and even though the basic outline of the content is the same, the way it's presented makes it intolerable to me.

I'm disgusted, but more than that, I'm disappointed. I considered NECN the last bastion of real news around here, and I'm worried that the rest of the channel's programming is going to drift away from that foundation. This is pretty much how I felt when channel 7 took over the 10 pm news on channel 56 a few years back: thanks for nothing, NECN, you ruined something that didn't need meddling with.

I guess I'll just listen to the radio in the mornings.

18 January 2011


I realized this afternoon that today used to be my grandmother's birthday. She passed away 15 years ago at age 90, and I probably haven't thought of her as often as I should have in the years since, but I saw "January 18" on something, and she just popped into my head.

I lost my other three grandparents in the space of about two and a half years; I was not quite six when my father's father died in 1969, and then my mother's parents died in 1970 and 1972, so my dad's mother was the only grandparent I had in my life for most of my life, and she was a significant presence in that respect.

She was born in the Bronx in 1906 to Italian immigrants, one of 14 children. I believe there were two sets of twins in there, and a couple of her siblings didn't made it to adulthood, childhood illness being somewhat more common a century ago.

She never learned to drive, so we had that in common. I was the oldest grandchild, and though she never said so, I always kind of felt like I was her favorite. When I was a kid, she used to take me on the bus with her to go shopping in downtown Providence ("downcity," as Rhode Islanders still say). You could say that she's a big part of the reason I like to shop so much.

Her name was Adeline, but somewhere along the way she acquired the nickname Lil. I was never sure of the reason for that. It might have had something to do with one of her siblings; several of them had one given name but were known by different names.

Lil was fiercely loyal to her family, but there was, to me, always a sadness about her. She never got over losing her husband. She didn't live to see me get married, but she met the Mrs. several times.

In one other bit of family trivia, her husband's birthday was the day after hers. She used to tell him, "I get the cake and you get what's left over."

Laundry Day

Yesterday was a day off for me, but my laundry pile had reached crisis proportions, so I spent most of the day doing laundry, and dutifully folding and putting away that laundry (really the more difficult part of the task to execute), and catching up on a few other miscellaneous tasks lingering from our pest control adventures last month. I apologize for not having anything fresh to post; my mind was elsewhere.

15 January 2011

This Week in Awesome (1/15/11)

How's your weekend? These selections should provide some entertainment.

This guy's mishap while attempting to bring back streaking demonstrates the benefits of being familiar with your surroundings. (Various internet outlets)

Has the Snuggie trend jumped the shark? This garment, called Forever Lazy (seriously), suggests it has. In an uncanny parallel to human evolution, it's a Snuggie that has grown legs. Wait a minute--that's not evolution, that's just an adult onesie with feet.

A belt buckle that folds down to hold your beer? Brilliant idea, but I still have an aversion to oversize belt buckles. (Los Angeles Times All The Rage blog)

This clip demonstrates that German drivers are about as capable of navigating a rotary as Massholes. I'm not a traffic engineer, but filling in the middle of the circle with some sort of obstacle might dissuade drivers from driving through it instead of around it. (The Daily What via Gawker TV)

And finally this week, a police car dashboard-cam video with a difference. Nothing made me laugh more this week. I'm not sure if that says more about me or the subject of the video. (Videogum)

14 January 2011

Friday Madness

Well, I had a fun commute home today. Guess I was due for some T travail. You may have heard about the tunnel fire this afternoon (cranky grammarian note: I have no idea why Chinatown is spelled as two words in that story).

I left work early and was on my way home to tend to the dog because the Mrs. couldn't get away from work at her usual time. Everything was going smoothly, and I was on pace to make the 5:00 bus out of Wellington when my Orange Line train stopped at Back Bay and never left. The operator announced that the train was being held "by master control." That probably should have tipped me off that something was up. A few minutes later we learned that the delay was due to a fire in the tunnel.

Shortly after, the operator said that there was no Orange Line service in either direction between North Station and Back Bay, and started instructing people about alternate routes, like taking the 39 bus to get to Forest Hills. I had to laugh when she said to use the commuter rail to get to North Station, because the rail lines that go through Back Bay go into South Station, so there were kind of a few steps missing in that suggestion. I figured I would just stay put and wait for the trains to start moving again.

After about 20 minutes, I overheard a T police officer make a comment (to one person, not a general announcement) suggesting that it might be another 30 or 40 minutes before the trains were moving again. Had the operator announced that time frame earlier on, instead of just repeating the same instructions over and over in the same monotone, I might have changed my mind about waiting around.

I left Back Bay station and walked to Copley, where I joined approximately 75,000 other commuters trying to take the Green Line due to the Orange Line delay. Surprisingly, I was able to get onto maybe the third train to come through that was going to North Station. It was packed and overheated, but people seemed to be in good humor about the whole thing.

[Side note: wouldn't you think that after a century or so of the subway's existence, people would not have to be told to let passengers off the train before trying to board? Just saying.]

Eventually I made it to North Station, where I joined approximately 200,000 other commuters trying to get onto the now-restored Orange Line service. This scene was several orders of magnitude more chaotic; the northbound platform was so crowded that people were lined up on the steps waiting to get down onto it, and the line snaked all the way up to the mezzanine level.

I watched at least 25 people walk across from Green Line trains and try to head down the up escalator that comes up from the platform below. Maybe they thought the escalator would have been shut off to make getting down to the platform easier? (Come to think of it, that might have been a good idea.) I stayed off to one side and waited until a couple of trains had come through, and enough room had opened on the platform to allow people to move down onto it.

After that, there was a 10-minute wait for the next train, and of course I could not get on it. Another one followed shortly after, and there was enough room on that one. I made it to Wellington just in time to watch the 6:00 bus pull away. But hey, it's only 20 minutes between buses, as long as they're running on time and aren't delayed by traffic at Wellington Circle, or iffy winter road conditions.

Just another ordinary day on the T.

In case you're wondering, the next bus did show up when it was supposed to.

13 January 2011

The "Rules": How I Break Them

When I go back to work on the day after a big snowstorm, I like to dress down a little more than I otherwise would (especially if the storm has kept me home the previous day). I guess it's my way of pretending that I'm sitting around at home drinking cocoa instead of getting back to work, or something. But it does represent the only time I allow myself to break my own rule about what's appropriate to wear to work.

It's not like there's any specific dress code in my office; it's just my own personal code and beliefs. I got to thinking about this a little more the other day when I saw the post over at Put This On about breaking the rules and conventions of style. Since I don't go to work in a suit, or even in what would generally be considered business attire, I don't really have to be concerned with the rules (though I am generally familiar with them, by and large). In my situation, it's more like "what conventions of adult male dress don't apply to me?" or "which ones do I choose not to concern myself with?"

Probably the biggest one of these, at least as far as most men would be concerned, is that I don't wear navy blue. Ever. I just don't like the color, it does nothing for my appearance, and I get by fine without it. (I feel the same way about yellow.) This isn't something that I arrived at overnight, and it's not recent. The last time I can recall owning a navy blazer is when I was a senior in college, some 25 years ago. During the course of that year, I experienced a major shift in my tastes and style in clothing, and I gradually replaced the navy items in my wardrobe with black and, later, dark gray.

I don't miss having navy sweaters or pants or socks; in a situation where a man would typically wear a navy blazer, I would and do substitute a patterned sportcoat, like a herringbone tweed. Not everyone would be okay with this, which is completely understandable; a navy blazer is considered one of the foundation pieces of a man's wardrobe, but it simply doesn't work for me. I don't care much for light blue shirts, either; I have one, but it's an end-on-end fabric so there's a bit of visual texture to it. I like blue just fine, but I prefer my blues to be bright or deep, without approaching navy.

(By the way, denim doesn't count in the "no navy" thing, because it's a combination of dyed and white threads, and because there are so many shades of blue denim.)

I don't especially care for sport jackets with patch pockets either. In certain instances, like on some styles of tweed jackets, they make sense, but I just don't like how they look. Plus there's still the whole Miami Vice thing, one of the blackest marks on our collective male fashion consciousness. One word: espadrilles. Espadrilles. On MEN? I had a girlfriend at the time who thought it was hilarious—she used to taunt me, "Are you sure you don't want some espadrilles?"

Elsewhere in footwear, I have no interest in desert boots, monk straps, wingtips, Bean boots, or tassel loafers. All of these are considered staples, maybe even classics, and all of them are newly returned to popularity, but none of them are shoes I want to wear, mainly for aesthetic reasons. And that's fine, because there are plenty of other shoe styles I do want to wear.

I don't like wearing my jeans cuffed, and I can't stand the high-water look. I see guys wearing it and I think, How could you not know your own pants size? and Aren't your ankles cold? I can't respect anyone whose pants end two inches above his shoes, because I just think he looks like a clown.

My real point is this: what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. Figure out what works for you, and put aside what doesn't.

12 January 2011

Vertical Snow

I'm about to head outside and start clearing the snow. Just spotted this on the back porch, thought it was kind of cool:
Collected snow in the porch railing slats, with help from the wind. Not sure how much is on the ground, difficult to tell from inside.

11 January 2011

Snow Day Ahead

Word came through right around lunch time that we should not come into work tomorrow due to the impending snowstorm. I was already planning on making it a work-at-home day, but it's nice for it to be made official.

Spending My Christmas Cash

While we were visiting my family for Christmas, my sister mentioned that she thought I should ease back on the shopping stuff I talk about here. I understood what she was saying, and I probably should have explained to her that a significant portion of my weekly visitors are folks who find their way to me via the link graciously posted on The Choosy Beggar.

While style and shopping are not the only topics I choose to write about, I feel I should be providing a certain amount of content that will (hopefully) be of interest to those visitors. Besides, style and shopping are things I care about and spend a lot of time thinking about and doing, but I can also appreciate the idea of trying to maintain some balance.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, you may have noticed that I haven't really had much to say about shopping and clothes and stuff during the past couple of weeks. In fact, I had been trying not to shop, even in the midst of all the post-holiday sales going on. I guess I'm just trying to approach the new year with a bit more restraint, but I knew that I would end up doing some shopping eventually.

My parents typically give us money for Christmas, and we usually deposit it into our joint account until we figure out something to use it toward. This year we decided to split it up and use it on ourselves individually. On Saturday we set out for South Shore Plaza, where we hadn't been for several years—I think it's possible that the last time I was there, the Filene's was still open.

We had a couple of reasons for choosing to go to that mall in particular. For one, my brother and sister gave us a Back Bay Restaurant Group gift card for Christmas, and there's a Joe's Bar and Grill in the mall, so we knew we could eat when we were finished shopping. I also wanted to visit the Sterlingwear store, which I had recently learned about from an ad that ran on NECN in December.

Sterlingwear is an apparel manufacturer located in East Boston--yes, that's right, actual garment making going on right within the city limits—pretty cool. I had been thinking about getting a pea coat, and Sterlingwear has been the official supplier to the US Navy for more than 40 years. I was more interested in the made-in-USA aspect of their business, and the advantage of being able to try on the coats to get the right size. (They also have a store in Nashua, NH.)

Sterlingwear makes several different styles of pea coat, with minor differences in cut, collar, details like number of buttons and whether or not there is a back vent, and type of lining, making an in-person inspection of the merchandise even more important to me. The coat with the heaviest lining felt too bulky, and I wasn't necessarily looking for the warmest coat I could get; I was thinking of the pea coat as more of an in-between coat. The one with eight buttons instead of six was cut an inch or so shorter and didn't look quite right: the shoulders were too wide, and I didn't care for its more stand-up style of collar.

Eventually I determined that I preferred the style called Navigator, with a satin lining and slightly less padded shoulders. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying it right at that moment, but I was told by the store clerks that all their coat prices are increasing $50 on February 1. If that was said just to get a sale, then it worked; if it's true (I have no reason to think otherwise), then I saved some money.

I did have to make one compromise: the other styles were available in a nice heathery medium gray, which I really liked, because I like gray in general and you don't typically see pea coats in gray. But the Navigator is not stocked in the gray; I could have ordered it, but it would have cost an extra $20 and I would have had to wait for it to be made. So I chose to get mine in black.

If you are interested in this type of coat, Sterlingwear offers them in a wide variety of sizes for men and women, and all styles are available in short, regular, and long. I assumed I would need a long, as I tend to in suits and sport jackets, but I found that the sleeves were too long. Both sleeves and body length were just right with a regular, though I did have to go up one size from my normal jacket size to get a comfortable fit through the torso.

Over the weekend I also bought a couple of things from the sale section of Lands' End Canvas (online; I don't know why I didn't think to go into Sears and check out the LEC sale stuff when I was at the mall). I got a J. Crew gift card from my brother and an L.L. Bean gift card from my mother, both of which I'll use eventually. I did check out the J. Crew in the mall, and it looked like it might be on the verge of closing; there was hardly any sale merchandise left, and an awful lot of bare shelf space overall. Even if it's just because they'd sold most of their fall stuff, the spring merchandise is usually starting so show up by this point.

In fact, there were a noticeable number of empty storefronts in the South Shore Plaza. Boston.com ran a story the other day on the state of things at the Atrium and the Mall at Chestnut Hill, but they might want to send those reporters down to Braintree, because I don't think these retail vacancy issues are confined to Newton.

08 January 2011

This Week in Awesome (1/8/11)

It's been snowing on and off for more than 24 hours, and there's still only about an inch on the ground here. But don't worry, there's plenty of TWiA to (hopefully) keep you amused:

There are hobbyists, and there are hobbyists. This intrepid gentleman, who happens to live in nearby Winchester, MA, creates incredibly realistic-looking scenes and backdrops for his collection of 1/24 scale Franklin Mint vehicles. The Wheels blog at the New York Times has the story, and you can check out Mr. Smith's Flickr images here. Amazing stuff.

Who doesn't love gloriously cheesy training videos from the '80s? This one happens to be for new police recruits, which makes it even more awesome in its awfulness. (Everything Is Terrible, naturally)

The Awl collected 10 web videos from 2010 that it thinks are particularly memorable.

And finally this week, a headbanging penguin, just because. (Videogum)

07 January 2011

Cannot Compute

Well, the server here at work went down about an hour ago. I can still do some work locally, but there are other things I'm unable to access. Sounds like a good reason to leave early today...

06 January 2011

Just A Trim

Between haircuts, I find it necessary to do some maintenance grooming on my own, mainly on the sideburns and the back of the neck. Several years back I bought a rechargeable trimmer with several interchangeable heads for various types of trimming (this also enables me to tame the pesky ear and nose hairs that are such a charming part of growing older).

It was nothing fancy, just a Conair that I found at drugstore.com for around $15 or so. The largest head has two comb attachments that allow for trimming to various lengths, but I only use one of them and keep it at its closest setting.

I have to remove the comb for close trimming, and a couple of months ago I dropped the comb, and it broke into several pieces--I guess it was just brittle enough and the tile floor in the bathroom was just hard enough.

Without that comb, I could not do any of my usual sideburn trimming, and I thought I would have to buy a whole new trimmer, but that seemed unnecessarily wasteful. First, I went on Conair's web site and looked up replacement parts. I found some, but not the one I needed.

I decided to send an email to customer service, specifying the model number of my trimmer, to see if I might be able to purchase the comb anyway. It took a couple of days to receive a reply, but the rep said they had a small number of the combs available and would send them to me free of charge.

A few days later a small package was in my mailbox, and the combs were packed inside, in bubble wrap so they would not get damaged during shipping. I greatly appreciated this gesture, as it was definitely beyond what I was expecting in terms of customer service. Companies used to provide this level of service all the time, and it's nice to know that some still do.

04 January 2011

Country of Origin?

Roving correspondent DC snapped this picture and sent it to me on New Year's Day, presumably while shopping at Dillard's:
Curious, I did a quick search on the google. At first I thought the tag said "Ukrania" (which, it turns out, is a tiny country in Central America), but it actually says "Ukraina" which is presumably a misspelling of "Ukraine." Any further insight is welcome.

03 January 2011

Back to It

A short while ago, as I was leaving the building to go get coffee, I saw someone I know who works in another office here. After we exchanged hellos, she looked at her watch and said, "Well, it didn't take long for the glow of the holiday break to wear off." That very accurately and concisely sums up how I'm feeling today.

02 January 2011

This Week in Awesome (1/1/11)

Yes, I know I didn't post this yesterday, but I couldn't resist the chance to do the "1/1/11" thing. My blog, my rules...

You think we got a lot of snow last week? Have a look at some serious snow-removal equipment from Japan. (Gizmodo via Jalopnik)

This compilation clip is called Informercial Hell, so it's pretty self-explanatory. (Funny or Die via Consumerist)

National Geographic is launching a yearlong series about the world's population, and this interesting and informative clip offers some population statistics. (The Daily What)

(I was going to link to the Top Gear Christmas special that aired in the UK last Sunday night, which someone thoughtfully posted to YouTube, but it has finally been removed--though it took several days for that to happen.)