29 September 2011

Five Years of This Nonsense!

That's right, I started this blog five years ago today. Crazy, huh?

I began as a kind of academic exercise, to see if I could sufficiently motivate myself to write somewhat regularly. It turned into a way to foster my creativity while simultaneously serving as a way to waste time at work (since that's where I do the bulk of these posts). To say it has evolved beyond whatever modest expectations I may have had is an understatement.

Thanks for following along as I've indulged my personal obsessions and attempted to chronicle the bits of everyday behavior that I happened to observe or overhear. Your support has been extremely gratifying.

28 September 2011

Watch Wednesday Upgrade Update #1

When I posted my most recent watch purchase back in early August, I mentioned replacing the strap, as I frequently do. But funny things happen, and the strap I bought with the intent of putting on that Seiko ended up on another of my watches.

Last year I got a Rolex Explorer lookalike made by a company called Alpha. It came with a metal bracelet, and it looked like this:
After going back and forth for a bit I decided to leave it on and wear it that way, since I didn't have any other watches with metal bracelets. So I wore it a couple of times, and whenever I turned my wrist a certain way, the clasp came undone. I was afraid of losing the watch, so I set it aside and didn't wear it for several months.

When the strap came that I had intended for the Seiko, I remembered this watch and was happy to see it took the same size strap, so I decided to use it on this watch instead (the Seiko will be fine with its low-rent strap for a bit longer). So now the Alpha looks like this:
It's a really nice strap, and it makes this watch somewhat dressier while keeping its overall sporty air. I have a couple of other watches I want to upgrade in this way: the Omega and the Tudor both deserve nicer straps. Unfortunately, the place I bought this strap from is out of those sizes at the moment, so it will have to go on hold for now.

27 September 2011

Brand New Bag

Allen Edmonds is currently having its biggest sale of the year, through Columbus Day. If you're in need of new shoes, this is an excellent time to take advantage of reduced prices on American-made shoes. I bought my first pair last year, but I'm abstaining from the sale this time around. There are definitely shoes I'm interested in, but I'm staying away in the interest of fiscal responsibility.

I did make a recent accessory purchase, one I'll be using for at least the next several years. I replaced the bag I've been carrying daily for the past four years or so. My main justification for getting another bag was that I wanted something water resistant, but to be honest, after using the bag every day for that time, I was simply ready for a change. (I called it a birthday present to myself.)

I had also become more aware of companies making products in the USA, like Filson, J.W. Hulme, Duluth Pack, and Frost River. Unfortunately, none of them had quite what I was looking for, but that doesn't mean their products aren't good; any of them are worthy of your consideration.

Then I came across a small company based in New York called Ernest Alexander. They started with a line of waxed canvas luggage and messenger bags, and they make their products right in New York City. They had a couple of bag styles that interested me. I had bookmarked their site some time ago, and went back when I decided I was ready to replace my older bag.

Another thing that I liked was the multiple color choices. The bag I was replacing was sort of olive with brown leather trim, so I was hoping to find something different from those colors. I was originally leaning toward the Voldis in gray, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about those side pockets, and while I prefer a bag with dual closures, I didn't want to have to be latching and undoing those two buckles all the time. So instead I chose the Walker, which is available in the same gray waxed fabric. It has only one closure, but it's hidden under the flap, which gives it a cleaner outside appearance. The leather strap is a very dark brown, definitely darker than the trim on my previous bag.

Other good stuff: if you place an order by 1 pm Eastern time, your order will ship out the same day, and shipping is included in the price. Since I'm only a couple hundred miles from New York, I got mine the next day. It arrived at my office in an enormous box, much larger than necessary to hold one bag. Inside the box was a huge matte black Ernest Alexander shopping bag on its side. Inside the bag was my bag, wrapped in black tissue paper. A printed card attached to the tissue with a sticker read, "Many thanks—we hope you enjoy your purchase with compliments." My name was written at the top, and at the bottom it was signed "The Ernest Alexander Team." This presentation is just a nice touch that makes the arrival and unboxing of a product more memorable.

I've been using the bag for a couple of weeks now, and the biggest adjustment has been the placement of the pockets, but I love how well it's made, and it also weighs less than my previous bag, so it's more comfortable to carry.

P.S. When I made my purchase, I was able to take advantage of a short-lived discount code related to Fashion Week; there may be others out there, but I don't know. And if you find Ernest Alexander's waxed canvas bags too pricey, they've just introduced a line of nylon bags at lower prices.

26 September 2011

Arsenic and an Old Face

There was a time when Lewis Black would appear for his "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show pretty much weekly. But these days we only get to see him every couple of months or so, presumably because he spends a lot of time touring and performing, as a result of the higher profile he gained from doing these pieces. You could say we're the victims of his success, because we don't get to enjoy his wit as often.

That's why I like to post his Daily Show segments here—I know there are those of you who appreciate Black's point of view but aren't regular TDS viewers, which is totally okay. But more importantly, there are very few people who are as good at exposing and skewering ridiculous hypocrisy as Black is, and in the current climate of our society, we need that—we need it badly. Enjoy:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Threats to America's Children
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

24 September 2011

This Week in Awesome (9/24/11)

Is it October yet? I'm asking for a friend...

History has recorded the final words of these noted authors. (BuzzFeed via Gilt MANual)

Remember those Ron Swanson TV dinners? The same guy has given us another great Parks and Recreation-themed food product. (Vulture)

You know how sometimes there's something you're interested in, like a body of work by a particular author, a band, a TV show that has achieved cult status, a genre of movies, etc., but you don't know where to start? The Onion's auxiliary the A.V. Club has you covered with their Gateways to Geekery series.

And finally this week, also over at the A.V. Club, Louis C.K. has been doing an episode-by-episode breakdown of the second season of Louie. (You watched Louie, right?) There were thirteen episodes this season, so it's in four parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

23 September 2011


Did you know that Banned Books Week still exists? It seems like something our country and society wouldn't have to bother with in 2011, and I honestly didn't think that sort of thing was still happening, but it is. Banned Books Week 2011 begins tomorrow and runs through October 1st.

I accidentally bumped up against this issue back in early August, when I happened upon a story about a high school in Missouri that had chosen to ban Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five from its library and curriculum. In response to the banning, the Vonnegut Library in Indianapolis offered students at the school free copies of the book, and at the same time was asking for donations to cover the cost of mailing books to students.

I made a small contribution on the general principle of the issue, and a couple of days later I received a very appreciative email from someone at the library's president thanking me. I meant to write about it at the time to bring attention to the issue, but it got away from me. Seeing a mention the other day of the upcoming Banned Books Week brought it back to the front of my mind.

I stay away from politically charged topics because I'm not comfortable writing about them; there are literally thousands of other people out there who understand them better than I do and can do a better job of articulating the issues. My late father-in-law was one of them. (I know stuff about stupid, useless stuff.) And I would never presume to tell anyone what to do or how to live. But freedom of speech is one of our country's most cherished and most important founding principles, and why hasn't everyone who would seek to ban a book realized by now that doing so only makes the people you are trying to keep the material from want to read it more?

More importantly, attempts to enact such prohibitions are another reminder that our freedoms are not static, and that the challenge of protecting and preserving them is an ongoing responsibility that all of us share. Think about taking time this coming week to read a book from this list, or explore the other books and authors listed in that section. Visit your local bookstore and ask a staff member to recommend a banned book. If you can't swing for a book purchase at the moment, your local library will be thrilled to help you out.

22 September 2011

Fall Isn't Ready

Most people can't wait for summer, and dread when it ends. I've always been the inverse: I can't wait for fall, both for the cooler temperatures and because I'm tired of wearing all my warm-weather clothes. But last weekend's cool-down was just a head-fake; we're back into the 70s, it's muggy and damp, and it's going to be that way for the next four days at least. I'm definitely ready for fall, but fall isn't ready for us.

Yesterday I met the Proper Bostonian for lunch at a Newbury Street restaurant with an outdoor patio, and she was surprised that I was wearing shorts, but as I've said before, if you try to dress for the calendar rather than the actual weather of the moment, you will almost certainly end up uncomfortable. I don't like it, but it's just how things are around here.

I have been trying to be more careful with my spending now that the Mrs. is a full-time student and not bringing in a regular income. Over the past couple of months I've made just a few purchases of fall items: a couple of shirts, a new pair of jeans. But I've resisted buying more things than I've purchased, and that will continue. To be honest, I hardly need any clothing; what I do need is to get myself in gear and sell some of the excess stuff I've accumulated over the past couple of years.

Today I did order boots from Lands' End Canvas with a combination of a 25% discount and a $60 voucher I purchased for $30 through LivingSocial in August. I've been waiting for Lands' End to offer a Canvas-specific discount (or at least one that didn't exclude LEC, as most of them do these days) so I could make the purchase this way. I wrote about these boots last year, pointing out their resemblance to Alden's "Indy" boots, and I've been thinking about buying them for a long time, but I decided to wait until I could get this sort of a deal on them. For those of you who prefer the look of the Alden boots, LEC has obliged with a moc-toe version that looks even more like the Indy, but I'm staying with my preference for plain-toes.

(By the way, have you noticed that Lands' End isn't being as generous with the Canvas offers as they were last year? I guess it's a victim of its own popularity.)

21 September 2011

Another Shoe Story

Remember a few weeks ago when I tried and failed to get those Spring Court canvas sneakers from J. Crew? I contacted the customer service person who has helped me in the past, and he said he would try to find me a pair, but that it might take some time.

By last Friday morning I hadn't heard from him, but I was making a quick pass through the sale section of their site and saw that the white sneakers were back in stock in my size. I wanted to just go ahead and place an order, but I'd gotten the original, two-right-shoes pair with an extra discount, and due to the circumstances (I was told they had more in stock, a replacement order was placed, then that order was canceled almost a week later) I felt that if I was going to get these shoes, I should be getting them at the discounted price, so I shot an email to my guy telling him the shoes were again available online.

He responded that he was not at work, but he was looping in one of his coworkers to process the order for me. Since these reps work in the same location as J. Crew's warehouse, she was able to go into the warehouse, get a pair of the sneakers, and confirm that the box did in fact contain one left shoe and one right shoe. She shipped them to me via overnight, they arrived Monday, and I'm happily wearing them today.

They're good shoes, and I like them a lot. One thing that's unusual about the Spring Court shoes is the design of the sole. There are four holes on each side of the sole, which open into chambers inside. The rubber insole (which is topped with the same canvas as the body of the shoe) rests loosely on top of these chambers, creating small air spaces and allowing air to circulate around the feet.

This is about the fourth time in the past 18 months or so that J. Crew's customer service has stepped up to resolve a problem for me, or just to locate an item I was looking for but had not been able to get online or in a store. They are pros, and they do things right. I didn't do anything special to merit this treatment; I simply used the contactus@jcrew.com email address which I found on their site. (To be fair, my mother has had problems ordering gift cards for me: two years in a row, the gift card was mailed to her instead of to me. No one can explain why it happened, but it was fixable, and they took care of it.)

20 September 2011

Look at Me

I was mildly surprised to open Sunday's Boston Globe and find myself not included among the "25 Most Stylish Bostonians of 2011" compiled in the bonus magazine section. After all, I certainly approach life with the intent of displaying a distinctive style. But after I'd flipped through and gotten a look at what the editors consider stylish (at least regarding the men included on the list), I was relieved not to be among them.

Perhaps a better title would have been "the 25 biggest attention whores of 2011." Too many people forget that style and fashion are two different things. I think these fancy dressers are meant to provide inspiration to us regular folk, but the approach to dressing on display among the majority of the men included on the list seems to be: dress to get attention, and wear as many layers and items of clothing as possible. That's great if you're young and out to leave your mark on the word, but most men are not comfortable dressing in a way that would attract so much attention to themselves, but that doesn't mean we can't be stylish.

What I'd really like to see the Globe do is compile a list of the 25 most stylish average Bostonians, the ordinary people with ordinary jobs who enjoy dressing well but who are not attention seekers by nature. Esquire has run a contest called the "Best Dressed Real Man in America," and that seems like an excellent template. Maybe 25 men and 25 women?

Also: can we just stop it with the untucked shirts? Especially under jackets. You guys are supposed to be grown-ups, right? Stylish ones, at that. There's a place for the untucked look: Saturday morning at the farmers' market.

Side note: women are still reluctant to reveal their ages. I had no idea this was an area of concern anymore.

19 September 2011

Quick (?) Emmys Post-Mortem

I watched most of the Emmy awards show last night (with the exception of the half-hour from 10 to 10:30, due to an unexpected late dog-walk and a couple of other distractions). I'm left with the usual mixture of appreciation and feelings that some of the choices were misguided.

The Emmy nominations have been improving over the past couple of years, but the academy still shows signs of its tendency to lock onto a show and award it to death, even when it doesn't necessarily deserve all the acclaim. I'm referring specifically here to Modern Family, which is unquestionably a good show (something that's still all too rare on network TV these days). I have no qualms about Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell winning the comedy supporting-acting awards; they are one of TV's funniest couples, and they work so well with and off each other onscreen.

But did the academy's voters really think that Modern Family was a better, more consistently funny show overall this past season than Parks and Recreation? I've watched every episode of both shows, and it wasn't: MF was much more uneven this past season, whereas PAR hit comedy home runs every episode. I'm left wondering how much of these shows the voters have to watch to make these decisions. (Not to neglect mentioning that Nick Offerman deserved a nomination for Ron Swanson, but with all four male Modern Family actors cluttering up the category there wasn't room.)

I loved the beauty-pageant bit the nominees for comedy lead actress did, and I think Melissa McCarthy is great (she completely stole Bridesmaids), but the work she was actually nominated for was on the much more mediocre Mike & Molly, and while I don't watch the show, I've seen bits of it here and there, and I find it extremely hard to believe she was better and funnier than Amy Poehler, who will hopefully get her recognition for Parks and Rec in the future. I feel like they gave McCarthy an Emmy for her performance in a movie, which doesn't compute. (I am eager to see how she does on Saturday Night Live when she hosts in a couple of weeks.)

Steve Carell's work on The Office was also slighted. Over seven seasons he was nominated for lead comedy actor six times, and he definitely deserved to win at least once, but now that he's left the show, he'll never be able to win because the academy missed its chance; they gave it to Jim Parsons a second time, for his performance on The Big Bang Theory in a role I find rather grating and one-dimensional. Michael Scott was certainly annoying at times (maybe 50 to 60 percent of the time, during certain seasons?), but he was also unpredictable.

Here's a thought: both Big Bang and Mike & Molly are exec-produced by Chuck Lorre; was the academy bestowing awards on his other shows to try to ease the sting of the fiasco around Two And a Half Men (also a Lorre show)? If so, they may have done well to reconsider the idea of letting Mr. Tiger Blood appear to wish his former show well. Frankly, at this point I find it difficult to believe anyone in TV is willing to give that ungrateful bridge-burner (whose name I decided I didn't even want to type) the time of day, and I was dismayed to see him being given an attempt at a sort of redemption, however half-hearted and feeble it ended up sounding. I was going to suggest he grow up, but it's way too late for that, so I hope he just does us all a favor and fades away.

The academy is often trying to backpedal to make up for past oversights, and in the process they sometimes miss opportunities to bestow the awards on those who deserve them more. Friday Night Lights ended its five-season run this year, and the academy has basically ignored it all along, so they felt they had to throw lead actor Kyle Chandler a bone, and in the process Jon Hamm was denied yet again. I mean come on, did the academy voters see "The Suitcase"? The decision should have been made for them right there.

I was disappointed on behalf of Elisabeth Moss too; I've felt since the beginning of Mad Men that Peggy is in fact the most important character, because of the nature of her journey, and that journey really started gaining some direction and momentum during season four. But everyone seems to have great respect for The Good Wife and Julianna Margulies' work on it, so I hope that Moss will benefit from the academy playing catch-up to her in a future year.

The voters' best choice of the night for acting was for Margo Martindale as supporting actress in drama, for the incredible, amazing, absolutely shattering portrayal of Kentucky crime matriarch Mags Bennett on FX's Justified. As Mary McNamara wrote in the Los Angeles Times after the nominations were announced in July, "...if Martindale does not win... the academy should be disbanded." They got it right, and Martindale's acceptance speech brought a tear to my eye. Sure, it meant Christina Hendricks was denied again, but there's no question who deserved it more.

But let's be honest: the academy is never going to get it 100% right. There will never be a perfect slate of nominees, much less a perfect group of winners. Let's be thankful for what they do get right, and hope the percentages get better as the years go by. And maybe Community can get some love next year?

18 September 2011

This Week in Awesome (9/17/11)

Last night we went to see the new movie Drive, which we both enjoyed. It felt stylistically similar to some of Michael Mann's movies, like Thief, Manhunter, and Collateral. The director is Dutch, so it did not feel like a Hollywood movie, in a good way.

Disney movie titles get dumbed down. (Letters of Note via The Hairpin)

Watch a time-lapse video of the construction of Audi's temporary exhibit pavilion at the Frankfurt Auto Show. (YouTube via Autoblog)

Take a look at the evolution of Windows. (Cult of Mac)

These beautiful Kodachrome color photos document a trip to New York in the early 1940s. Amazing to see. (Mail Online; hat tip to Dave)

And finally this week, if you're feeling stressed, just stare at this video of a water fountain in a train station in Osaka. (Freshome via Gizmodo)

17 September 2011

Retro Video Unit (9/16/11)

I realize it's already Saturday, but I was quite busy at work yesterday and couldn't get around to posting this. (Maybe I should find some of these videos and bookmark them ahead of time?)

When my monthly deadline happens to fall after a weekend, most of the work has to be completed before that weekend (or during it, and we know that's not going to happen), for arcane reasons having to do with how the various databases communicate with each other.

Last weekend I went to the latest installment of a music show called Mixtape. Local musicians and bands come together to perform songs from a given year; this edition was all songs from 1978. I turned 15 that year, and I listened to the radio all the time, so these were songs I knew well: the Bee Gees, Styx, Billy Joel, the Grease soundtrack.

But then one of the bands came on and did "Take Me to the River" (by Al Green, but covered significantly by Talking Heads in '78) and "Stay Free" by the Clash. It got me thinking about how this was right around the time when I was starting to discover that there was other music out there beyond what was popular and got played on the radio.

I saw Talking Heads on Saturday Night Live in 1978, and their second performance that night, of the song "Artists Only," was nothing like their earlier rendition of "Take Me to the River": the music was jerky and angular, and David Byrne was sweating and twitching around the stage like a guy having a controlled seizure. I was spellbound, confused, and intrigued.

Unfortunately Saturday Night Live doesn't seem to allow its music clips to be posted on YouTube (at least not the ones I've looked for), and I'm fairly certain there was no official music video for this song, so let's go with this: a live performance of "Artists Only" from May 1978.

15 September 2011

Back Pocket

I don't tend to think about my wallet much, until I need a new one. Then I go nuts for a while looking for something different, because I don't like the standard horizontal-opening style. A long time ago I used to use a trifold, until I realized that it was just too bulky from those extra layers of leather.

I don't carry as much in my wallet as some people I've seen, but I need a certain minimum amount of space. For the past decade or maybe longer, I've had two or three examples of what I guess you could call an L-fold or flip-fold style wallet: it opens vertically, like a book, and there's another section on the left that flips up. I kept my less frequently used cards under the flip and the everyday-access stuff on the right.

When I noticed recently that my wallet was looking worn, I started to think about what I might want to replace it with. I've seen some very nice wallets that are meant to be kept in the inside pocket of one's suit jacket. I sometimes wear a sportcoat, but not regularly, and what would I do with the wallet when I was just wearing jeans or shorts? I needed to stick to a wallet that would go in my back pants pocket.

The Mrs. offered to buy me a new wallet as a birthday present, so I gave her some basic guidelines. We were in a Marshalls a couple of weeks ago and she found what I had described, but it turned out to be the exact same wallet I've had for the past six years, even made by the same company. I realized that I didn't want to simply get another of the same thing.

I tend to get wrapped up in searches for things that are very difficult to find, and I was off on another one. I looked just about everywhere I could think of for something suitable yet different enough to be interesting. I've seen some very nice products from companies like Makr, Tanner Goods, and Chester Mox that make leather goods in the USA from quality leather. But I was disappointed that I couldn't find a wallet from any of them that would work for me.

Eventually I found a Fossil wallet from Zappos. (It also came in black, which is what I got, but it has since sold out.) It opens like a book, but instead of the flip-up flap, there is a dual-sided ID window that is attached to center of the wallet so that it flips from side to side like a page in a book. It turned out to be a little bigger than what I really needed, but I still liked it and decided that it was a good enough choice that I could stop searching.

14 September 2011

Treats, Human and Otherwise

A couple of years ago I wrote about some mints I liked from Newman's Own Organics. My post was discovered by the company's PR representative via a Google keyword alert. She contacted me and offered to send me a sampling of the company's other product offerings. I accepted, and later wrote a bit about those products as well. I still prefer their pretzels because I've found them to be the tastiest and they have a reasonable amount of salt, but not too much.

A few weeks back, the same PR rep contacted me again to tell me the company was introducing two new flavors of cookies, and offered to send me samples. I thanked her and accepted her offer. The new cookie flavors are ginger snap and oatmeal chocolate chip. The cookies are bite-sized and crispy, perfect for snacking. I'm not a big fan of ginger, so I didn't get around to trying those, but the Mrs polished off the bag so I assume she liked them. I enjoyed the oatmeal chip variety and would certainly buy them myself.

The rep also included some of the company's new dog treats. They are hard and very crunchy, baked and biscuit-like in form. They come in four flavors; we got samples of two, beef and vegetable and lamb and barley. London, who is kind of a fussy dog when it comes to treats, has gone fairly nuts for these; she gives them four paws up. (The beef ones are almost gone already.) Also, the hard composition of these makes them helpful in cleaning a dog's teeth while it snacks.

So all the members of the SAR household were satisfied, and purchasing Newman's Own Organics products continues to be a smart choice.

13 September 2011

Watch Bargains

J. Crew has been offering exclusive-to-them Timex watches for a while. There are now four styles, ranging in price from $150 to $195. I don't know if you've priced Timex watches lately, but that's a hefty premium over "ordinary" Timexes.

They're nice watches, especially the diver-style with the dark blue face and bezel, but frankly they just aren't worth the asking price. Also, the military-style watches are on the small side, and don't quite have the appropriate presence on a larger wrist.

There are other watches around that come close to the look of the military watch, like the one I picked up a few months ago. But even that one retails for $95, though I paid much less. But what if you just want a decent-looking facsimile of a military watch and don't want to spend more than $50?

Now there are options, direct from Timex. They launched this line of "Weekender" watches about a month ago, starting at $40. Some of them come on striped nylon straps, just like the ones J. Crew sells for $20. You don't get to choose which strap you get, but if you want to switch it up, you can find straps like this online for much less. (Some of the other styles have very cheesy, plasticky-looking straps, so you may need to plan on getting something different anyway.)

There's also a variation on the basic military style that comes with a slightly larger case that sports a tachymeter bezel (you can use it to measure the speed of things, if you're so inclined; if not, it just looks good on your wrist). I also like this variation (also available in a somewhat smaller ladies' style), which doesn't have the military look but does have a nice color-fade effect (called a degrade), particularly on this black-to-gray version.

These are good-looking watches, and if you happen to live near a Target, you may find them stocked in the watch department. I saw almost all of these at my local Target last week, and they look just as good in person. Even better, Target's prices are about $5 lower than the prices shown on the Timex site. Or you could use that code on the Timex site and get 20% off; order two (at these prices, you might as well) and you'll probably spend enough for free shipping. Any of these watches is going to be a solid, dependable, stylish choice at a great price.

UPDATE, 9/14: Overstock appears to have many of the Weekender styles available, priced between $27 and $36 (one metal bracelet style is $40). Well, what are you waiting for?

12 September 2011

Universal Language (of Annoyance)

I guess the 21st-century equivalent of annoying those around you by blasting your music out of a boombox is annoying those around you by playing your music through the tiny, worthless speakers built into your cell phone.

I believe this started with people choosing not to answer their phones when someone called, so they could listen to whatever song they had chosen for a ringtone, but it's gone beyond that now. Do you really think your music sounds better coming out of those flimsy, half-inch openings than through headphones?

(This is another behavior I have observed twice recently, and the Rule of Three will also have to be applied, if it gets to that point.)

10 September 2011

This Week in Awesome (9/10/11)

Buckets of internet this week...

Slightly nostalgic, part 1: a brief history of portable audio tape formats. (J&R)

Slightly nostalgic, part 2: Looking back at Star Trek, which premiered 45 years ago this week on NBC. (space.com)

Slightly nostalgic, part 3: vintage ads from Boston department stores for the 1949 back-to-school season. The formatting is a little wonky, but it's worth looking at. (Shopping Days in Retro Boston)

Work on building your vocabulary with these esoteric insult words. (Neatorama via The Daily What)

Apple is coming down hard on that iPhone prototype thief. (Conan via Cult of Mac)

And finally this week, I feel really bad for these kids, but I do have to question why their parents would have allowed their attempts at a little parlor trick to escalate so far. (Videogum)

09 September 2011

Nostalgic for Nosalgia

Even for someone like me who watches a fair amount of TV, and reads a lot of stuff about TV, it's simply not possible to see everything, or even everything I might be interested in. Shows get overlooked, or they don't seem like something I'd want to watch, or maybe they get canceled before they have a chance to catch on and build an audience. Actually, that's what happens to most new TV shows, at least the ones that air on the major networks.

Once in a while, one of these gone-too-soon shows ends up overcoming oblivion and goes on to become a cult classic. Even more rarely, a show canceled too soon goes on to become a cult classic and also becomes the foundation for the successful careers of several of its stars.

Can you tell that I finally got around to watching all of Freaks and Geeks? The show premiered on NBC in the fall of 1999 to critical acclaim but abysmal ratings. Eighteen episodes were completed, which more or less constitute a full season, though the show was officially canceled early in 2000 and not all of the completed episodes aired back then.

Freaks and Geeks tells the stories of two groups of high school students in suburban Michigan. Lindsay is a good student who is tired of being seen as just one of the smart kids, so she starts hanging out with the freaks, who gradually accept her. Her younger brother Sam and his friends Bill and Neal are misfits who are just trying to get through a day at school without getting picked on or beaten up. The episodes take place during the 1980-81 school year. This happens to be when I was a senior in high school, so the show was directly on target for me in so many ways: clothes, music, hairstyles, cars. We didn't use the term "freaks" though; where I grew up we referred to those kids as "burnouts."

The creative minds behind the show were Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, who have both gone on to highly successful careers as producers and directors of movies like Bridesmaids and Knocked Up. The cast included James Franco, who's gone on to do just about everything; Jason Segel, who is one of the stars of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother (about to begin its seventh season) and has starred in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the upcoming Muppets; Linda Cardellini, who went on to play nurse Sam on ER; Seth Rogen, who is a regular in many of Apatow's movies and is also in the upcoming 50/50; Busy Philipps, who is a star of the ABC sitcom Cougar Town and has a role in the upcoming I Don't Know How She Does It alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Christina Hendricks; Martin Starr, who appeared in Party Down (another show that deserved a better fate) and has done many other shows and movies; and John Francis Daley, who's on the Fox drama Bones. Not bad, huh?

The show had a few missteps: I felt the storyline about one character's interest in disco was a couple of years too late (disco's popularity had started to fade by '81), and for a show that was supposedly set in Michigan, there was a glaring absence of snow; in fact, I don't recall seeing so much as a winter coat. But really, these are just quibbles. The strength of the writing and acting overcomes such inconsistencies.

Freaks and Geeks has been running in what seems to be a continuous loop, one episode per week, on the cable channel IFC for at least the past year, probably longer. I wanted to watch the episodes in order, so I checked the schedule on IFC's web site to figure out when the first episode was airing, and started recording them back in the spring. If you're interested in the show, the bad news is that it's not available to watch through Netflix streaming; the good news is that the cycle of episodes is starting over next Monday at 6 pm Eastern time on IFC, so set your DVR to "record all episodes." You can always go the DVD route, but it's kind of fun to watch one episode per week, like in the old days of TV. It's well worth your time.

08 September 2011

Time for an Upgrade

A few months back, my home computer started behaving very sluggishly. Web browsing was painfully slow, sometimes reminiscent of the bad old days of dial-up internet connections. It also had a sudden difficulty in holding onto its wireless connection. Neither of these things had been a problem previously, and I suspect it had something to do with one of the Mac OS updates, but I didn't have the patience to go back and uninstall it; I wasn't even sure that was possible.

The computer is almost four years old, and I would have loved to simply replace it, but I could not justify the expense just now. I knew the RAM was upgradeable, so I looked into that. Back in 2007 Mac minis came with 1 gigabyte of RAM, which was adequate, but over time it had become less so. They can take as much as 4 gigs, and it isn't terribly expensive: $60 to max it out.

There was one hurdle, though: the procedure to open up a Mac mini of that vintage and install the RAM is a huge pain in the ass. I watched an instruction video on the site of the RAM vendor; it began with sanding down the blade of a putty knife to slide into the bottom of the case to separate it from the top, and got into much more complicated things like having to detach cables. It was way beyond my comfort zone.

(New Mac minis are much easier to open and upgrade, but if you still have CDs you want to load into iTunes, you have to buy an accessory external drive, which sucks. iMacs have a little RAM access compartment on the bottom edge.)

Having the RAM installed at an Apple store or other authorized service center would certainly cost enough to negate the notion of boosting the computer's performance on the cheap. I back-burnered the idea for a couple of weeks, until the computer's torpor got annoying again.

Then I had the idea to ask our IT guy at work if he had experience doing this sort of thing. He did not, but he knew someone else who did. I made it clear that I was willing to pay something for the person's time, but he said that wouldn't be necessary. I ordered the RAM, and when it arrived I brought my computer into work (its small size definitely made that easier), where our IT superhero took over and brought it to its appointment with Dr. Macinstein.

In practically no time the upgrade was complete, and my Mac mini had quadrupled its RAM, which made a huge difference in precisely those areas that were problematic. I still can't install the Lion OS, but based on what I've read so far, I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

07 September 2011

Corn Again

On the way to work this morning, I saw ANOTHER person eating corn on the cob on the train.


It must have been cold, right? Blech.

One more and I'm officially required to notify the Globe so they can do a trend piece on it.

06 September 2011


After my week off, plus the extra day of the long weekend, it was back to work for me. Last night I dutifully set my clock radio's alarm before going to sleep. I even checked to make sure the volume was high enough and it was tuned to an actual station instead of just static (it's an older clock radio, with rotary controls on the side that sometimes get bumped).

This morning I woke up to no sound. I rolled over and looked at the time; it was almost an hour after the time I normally get up. I sat up and took a closer look at the clock radio, and saw what I'd missed in my pre-bed fatigue the night before: The alarm was set correctly, but after our ten-second power outage last weekend, I had reset the time incorrectly, so it was in PM instead of AM, and since I hadn't needed it all week, I hadn't noticed. Oops.

As I jumped out of bed and headed toward the bathroom, I thought to myself that even though this was not a fortuitous way to start my first day back to work, I felt great from the extra hour of sleep I wasn't supposed to have gotten.

05 September 2011

Mall Malaise

Last week, while the dog was having the growth removed from her paw, we had several hours to kill while waiting for the vet to call and tell us when we could go back and pick her up. We could have gone home, but we would have had to drive back. The vet was near the mall, and I had an errand I needed to do there anyway, so that's where we spent our afternoon.

I hadn't been in a mall in at least a couple of months. With the end of summer upon us, I figured this would be a good opportunity to check out the first arrivals of fall clothing, but I came away more disappointed than anything else. The Proper Bostonian hates malls, and I'm starting to feel the same way.

As much as I love shopping online, I also enjoy shopping in stores, for several reasons. You can inspect things up close and check on construction and fit, you see colors more realistically than on a monitor, you may get ideas about ways to wear certain items from what they are displayed with, and in a setting like a mall, there's a wide assortment of merchandise to see in the various stores.

The problem was that, in store after store, nothing interested me. There seemed to be a lack of differentiation, a lack of variety. Most of the smaller stores skew too young for me these days. If you're in a mall with two or three major department stores, they all have more or less the same stuff from the same typical department store brands. These days the prevailing trends seem to be beach bum, Jersey Shore, and fashion-dude.

In department stores I've never been hesitant to shop house brands, which used to offer viable alternatives to the Ralphs and Tommys. But as profits have become harder to realize, store chains have cut back on house-brand offerings. Now everything available is bland, lowest-common-denominator stuff that's meant to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Even Nordstrom, a store I've always considered a cut above, let me down. There's a much heavier emphasis on the young men's section than I would have expected, given that their prices are typically higher and younger men typically have less money to spend. And the stuff for the middle-aged guys skews toward logo-laden Faconnable (once independent, how a house brand) and what some people refer to as "restaurant shirts"—you know, those brightly-colored striped shirts with contrasting inner cuffs meant to be worn turned up. Ecch.

As I walked from store to store around the mall, I kept thinking how much I still miss Martin+Osa, which used to have a store in this particular mall. Their stuff really hit a sweet spot for me in terms of style, fit, and value. But American Eagle pulled the plug on the brand a year and a half ago, and the stores finished liquidating their remaining stock about a year ago.

Since then I have more or less replaced them with Lands' End Canvas, but LEC seems to be treading water, and this fall's offerings aren't impressing me. Ditto for L.L. Bean Signature, which has been scoring points with the menswear bloggers but doesn't seem to have much to offer me.

J. Crew has been my go-to brand for some time, and there is always something there that interests me, but the stores often don't have the space to stock a full collection, and while I have to credit the men's-only store in Copley Place for the breadth of selection in a relatively small space, it has no sale merchandise.

I've gone through phases like this before, when I felt like there was nothing out there of interest to me. This is typically when I'd turn to eBay or Style Forum in search of elusive pieces from years past. I'll probably do some of that searching, but the truth is, there's very little I need at the moment, so maybe this is a good time to take a break from shopping. It might be difficult, but if there's nothing to buy it will be slightly easier.

04 September 2011

This Week in Awesome (9/3/11)

Okay, so I took a bit of a break there (I was on vacation this week, after all), but not to worry...

Remember Sniglets? This site is sort of a brainier version of those. (The Hairpin)

In another instance of too much free time, a collection of photos of cars that are the same make, model, and color parked adjacent to each other. Silly, but also kind of entertaining (YMMV). (Jalopnik)

If that wasn't obsessive enough for you, how about this insane, ridiculous, full-on wedding album of a doll wedding? (Glamour Weddings blog via Hairpin)

And finally this week, proof (not that we really needed it) that in general, people are exactly as stupid as we believe them to be. (Salon)

Addendum: Oops, I forgot one. Dr. Hackenbush sent me this about a week ago, and it had dropped down toward the bottom of my inbox: carefully rendered depictions of events that took place in familiar locations, but in alternate realities.

02 September 2011


—A raspberry turnover for breakfast is almost like having pie for breakfast... maybe better?

—Those sneakers from J. Crew? Not comin'. I had a feeling something was up when almost a week had passed since my call to customer service and I still had not received a shipping confirmation. Yesterday morning I got an email with the bad news.

I know that inventory fluctuates with the sale and clearance stuff, but when I called I was told they were definitely available. I'd rather not be lied to; just tell me there's a chance I might not get them. I wouldn't even care so much if they weren't to replace the initial two-right-shoes pair.

Anyway, I know a guy, maybe he can help...