30 December 2011

Today's Three Weirdnesses

The Mrs. was at her internship today, so I went into Back Bay this afternoon to do a few things. The Orange Line was fairly empty, but I was joined in the car at the next stop by a group of three young people, one of whom was showing off his Pandora mobile app, which meant I was once again subjected to someone else's terrible music through a tiny, tinny speaker. In this instance, the night before I had just watched the season two episode of The League called "Ghost Monkey" in which two characters criticize the cheesy dance music a third is listening to in his car via Pandora, and the music this guy was playing was hilariously similar. Thankfully, there are still areas in the T tunnels where cell phones still don't work, so eventually the music died, to my great relief.

On my way home later in the afternoon, I got on the Green Line and immediately noticed an unpleasant, vaguely vomitish smell. Not even New Year's Eve yet, and the T already smelled like puke. Way to get the jump on the new year, T.

And later on, we stopped at a liquor store to look for something bubbly to take to our friends' house tomorrow night. This is a place we've never been, but it happens to be on the way to the restaurant where we'd decided to eat. As soon as we walked in, we both noticed that the whole store smelled like a gigantic ashtray. 20 or so years ago that might not have been so unusual, but workplace smoking has been banned for a long time; someone has obviously been ignoring this rule in this particular store for a long time. We quickly turned and left, and happened to pass another store on the way where we got what we needed.

29 December 2011

Laundry Tip

You folks all use OxiClean, right? Amazing stuff. I've found the spray and gel stick to be more useful than the powder, but that's good for certain things too. For the past couple of months I've been using the spray on my shirt collars before putting them in the washing machine. It's quicker and easier than pre-treating them with detergent, and just as effective if not more so.

28 December 2011

Not Flannel Enough

I managed to get over to the UPS customer center in Watertown yesterday to retrieve my package from Lands' End. I had ordered wool flannel suit separates, but the fabric is not flannel. It's wool, and it's decently put together (in Mexico), but the fabric does not have the heft, thickness, or nap that you would expect of wool flannel. Flannel is a fall/winter fabric; this might even be light enough to wear in late spring.

This does not come as a complete shock, given the gradual cheapening of LE's products over the past several years, and the struggles of its parent company Sears. At $165 for both pieces it was certainly a good enough deal, but it isn't what I wanted, so I don't know if I'm going to keep it.

26 December 2011

After-Christmas Sales

This being the day after Christmas, there are a lot of great sales happening. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive listing, more like suggestions for some places to look.

Nordstrom's semi-annual men's sale started today, and it's one of the best times to stock up on basic items like dress shirts (their house brand is a good choice). Brooks Brothers also has a pretty wide-ranging sale, and today only they are offering an additional 20% off sale prices online and in stores. They have a nice discount on dress shirts if you buy in bulk: four shirts will get you 40% off, or 25% off two. I think this offer applies to ties too.

(Of note on the Brooks sale: if you go for the bulk-shirts thing, the extra 20% does apply on top of the 40%, and you can mix and match dress shirts and casual shirts. It also applies to their made-in-USA Levi's, which is nice because those are $148, but at 25% off and with the extra discount they're down to $89, which makes them somewhat more justifiable.)

Lands' End Canvas is taking an extra 20% off sale stuff, and their sale prices are already quite low on a bunch of their stuff. J. Crew has a similar offer, though their online sale selection can be iffy. Usually the online sale gets restocked once a week or so, but if there's a specific item you want that isn't available in your size, get in touch with customer service. I've had excellent luck with them finding items for me, even if they have to have it shipped from a store that has it in stock.

L.L. Bean's sale applies to both its regular and Signature lines. Sometimes these deals can be great, other times not so much. Stores tend to have a much narrower selection than online, unless you happen to live near Freeport or are in the mood for a road trip. A sale at Orvis is more like a "sale," since their prices are generally high to start, but you might want to browse and see what's on offer.

All of Crate & Barrel's holiday candy is 50% off, and it usually goes quickly, so get moving.

24 December 2011

This Week in Awesome (12/24/11)

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating. I've left some gifts for you under the internet tree...

As far as I can tell, this is a real commercial for a real product. But you have to wonder... (Videogum)

The Village Voice's Maura Johnston is back with her list of the most irritating songs of 2011.

See the characters from Parks and Recreation as cartoon illustrations. (Jon Defreest via Vulture)

This is just one person's opinion, but this list of the best web films of the year has some pretty cool stuff on it. (The Awl)

And finally this week, an awesome Christmas flashback: Run-DMC performing "Christmas in Hollis" back in '91. (The Awl)

Christmas Question

What does it say about me that the only Christmas music I own (bought from iTunes) is "Fairytale of New York"?

(...and just as I was about to sit at the computer and post this, I saw on the Mrs.' facebook that Lisa had posted about the same song. Have a merry one, Lisa...)

23 December 2011

Delivery Exception

Today was the first day of my holiday break. When a holiday falls on a weekend, it's "observed" on the nearest weekday. Each year, when the calendar of work holidays comes out, Christmas Eve is listed as a half-day, and each year, the dean announces that everyone gets the whole day off, which I guess is supposed to make us like him more, or something.

During last weekend Lands' End was having a big sale with 40% off everything, including stuff that was already marked down. I ordered a few things, feeling that some of the deals were too good to let go by. I signed into my account and clicked "place my order" without thinking about it too much. The order didn't ship until Wednesday, but I wasn't concerned because I knew I would get it at home today.

This morning when I went online to confirm that the package was scheduled to be delivered today, I realized that it was heading to my work address. Because of the holiday, the building was not even open today, so UPS could not deliver there. I called Lands' End and was told they could not change the delivery address, so I called UPS, where I was told my only option was to pick up the package at their distribution facility, or wait until after the break.

I could have picked it up today, but I couldn't get there on my own. So hopefully I'll be able to get over there on Tuesday. But when I placed the order, I should have been more mindful of my situation and schedule this week, and defaulted to my home address.

22 December 2011

Watch Wednesday Upgrade Update #2

There, I fixed it...
For some context, this "woven" style of strap was fairly common on sport and diving watches in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then they were made of rubber or vinyl, and they usually had flat edges without any sort of stitching, and especially not with contrasting-color stitching like this strap. So it's kind of bridge between past and present, as well as a visual connection to the red accents on the watch dial.

This strap is made by Hadley-Roma and is available with stitching in orange, white, or black in addition to the red. I've also seen other similar styles with blue or yellow. They generally aren't expensive, either; I got this one for only $20 from GlobalWatchBand.

21 December 2011

Watch Wednesday (12/21/11): Bonus Holiday Watch

Notice I didn't say "holiday bonus watch"; it isn't, because I didn't receive one...

So, the one-watch-per-quarter rule got a little bent, but I have a long history of buying myself presents at this time of year anyway.
I first became aware of this Timex watch almost nine months ago when it was shown at the big watch trade show in Switzerland. At the time the word was that the watch would be available "soon," but it only appeared in the Timex online store in November, so I have no idea what was going on there.

It's a nice watch, nothing fancy, just good looks. It does have Indiglo, which is always useful. This is the strap that came with it. It's some sort of soft-touch silicone, and it feels okay on the wrist, but it's a lint magnet. I took this picture right before I removed it to attach the strap I'd bought for it, but after I was finished I got distracted and didn't take a picture with the new strap. It's too late now, so I'll try to do that tomorrow.

20 December 2011

Winter Break TV Projects

I was just talking with a couple of my coworkers at our holiday party about this: the next couple of weeks are kind of a wasteland for TV, but it's an excellent time to get into a show you've heard about but have not gotten around to watching. Of course it helps if, like us, you have ten or twelve days off.

I'm lending one person my Dexter DVDs, someone else is checking out Louie on Netflix, and another person is planning to watch Deadwood. Me? Not sure yet. Hoping to maybe get into The Good Wife, as it generally gets good reviews and praise from critics.

19 December 2011

Random Bits

—I got a package delivery from the postal service yesterday. Sunday. Huh? Not complaining, mind you; in fact I was pleasantly surprised. It had been sent via Priority Mail in Oregon on Friday, which makes it that much more impressive that it crossed the continent so quickly. I guess the USPS is trying to make customers happy this holiday season, and paying some overtime to have people drive around and delivery Priority Mail packages on a Sunday isn't a bad way to do that.

—This morning while heading into the T station, there was a dude in front of me wearing a black nylon technical parka and a porkpie hat, which set off the WRONG alarm (the one in my head, I mean). I've long since accepted that certain fashion trends and specific items of clothing are not going away, and that people are going to keep wearing them regardless of how unstylish they are.

But the issue for me here was the cross-pollination between two items that are of questionable style merit to begin with: I can think of few items of clothing more ill-suited to being worn with each other. Fact is, there is a dividing line in men's clothing, and these items live on opposite sides of it. And if there is any "rule" of style that you cannot break, it's that one: you can't mix stuff from opposing sides of that line. You have to choose a side.

18 December 2011

This Week in Awesome (12/17/11)

Wow, the last few months have absolutely flown by. It feels like it was just Labor Day, but there's only two weeks left in the year, and the Mrs. finishes up her first semester of grad school in a couple of days. Meanwhile, the internet brought us some early Christmas gifts...

This week's time-lapse is of Ho Chi Minh City, and it's pretty cool. (Rob Whitworth via Jalopnik)

Bored? Try this cat video masher-upper. (Hemmings Auto Blog)

Tom Hanks was on Late Show With David Letterman, promoting the latest project he's producing for HBO. (CBS via The Daily What)

And finally this week, a reminder that Apple wasn't always awesome. (Cult of Mac via Retronaut)

Winding Down

Ravioli with bolognese sauce, inexpensive chianti from Trader Joe's, and the football highlights show is a nice way to wrap up the weekend.

TWiA will be up later this evening...

16 December 2011

Retro Video Unit (12/16/11)

Just dug up this old nugget from XTC, "Making Plans For Nigel." I'm quite sure I've never seen this video before, which is kind of surprising, though XTC were never exactly a high-profile band. Anyway, it does a nice job of adding a visual element to the song's lyrics while maintaining their innate British specificity, and acts as a reminder that the England of 30-some years ago seemed much more distant than it does today. And I wonder what those giant dice were made out of?

15 December 2011

Chambray Ralph

I've been a fan of chambray shirts for a long time. Back in the mid-1990s I even had a tab-collared dress shirt version. These days you're more likely to find them over in the heritage-Americana wing of menswear, but that doesn't mean you can't wear a workshirt with a tie and jacket—it'll just look better if you choose the right ones.

I tend to confine mine to weekend wear, but I haven't had a "regular" blue chambaray workshirt for a couple of years now. I had one that I'd picked up at the Gap, right before I decided it was no longer worth shopping there. I wore it here and there, but I was never that excited about it; the pockets were too small, and it didn't fit that well—the sleeves were egregiously long.

This fall, Ralph Lauren introduced another sub-brand to its empire: Denim & Supply. Some of you may remember the old Polo Jeans Co. line, which disappeared from department stores about five years ago; this new label sort of fills that gap in the lineup, while also serving as a kind of poorer guy's substitute for the super-nice and super-pricey RRL line (finally available online, by the way). Some of this stuff is a bit costumey, but some of it is basic, simple day-off clothing: flannel shirts, jeans, henleys, and chambray workshirts.

None of it is going to approach the quality you'd have found in Ralph's offerings of, say, two decades ago (Polo Country, anyone?), but on the positive side, the fabrics (like most all of Ralph's stuff) are above-average, the fit is modern without being ridiculous, and since the line is sold in stores like Macy's, it gets marked down, and then marked down again, and then has another 20% taken off.

The other day I picked up this shirt at Macy's (the first time I'd been in the downtown store in maybe three months). Don't even bother with the lighter, faded blue; the darker blue is the way to go. (The Mrs. is kindly going to remove that silly little tag from the pocket, as soon as her semester is finished in a few more days.) They were on a 50% off rack, with an additional 20% discount being offered that particular day without any coupon hassle, for a grand total of $28, or 60% off the original asking price.

I might have been able to get it for even less if I'd been willing to wait a bit longer, but then I'd run the risk of not being able to find my size. (And FYI, even when the Ralph site marks things down, the prices are inevitably going to be higher than the markdowns in a store like Macy's.)

14 December 2011

That Would Be Me

There's an interesting article in the business section of today's New York Times about people who don't use facebook. By the numbers, roughly one-third of Americans decline to participate in the social network, for various reasons. Here are a few of mine:
  • I don't care for the way they've conducted themselves as a corporate entity, with all the bullshit about privacy settings, and if you step back from the "connect with your friends" aspect, the real reason facebook exists is as a marketing tool, so right there I'm out. I don't like the idea that I would have to "like" some company's facebook page in order to enter a contest.
  • I'm not interested in reconnecting with people I went to high school with, and I wouldn't want those people to be able to contact me that way. Both my high school and college offer web gateways for alumni, and I'm registered on both of them, so if someone from those periods of my life really wants to get in touch with me, it's relatively easy.
  • Sorry, but I don't really care what you had for breakfast, even if you are my friend.
  • As for my real-world friends, I do not lack ways to communicate with them
  • The design is just horrible, so bland as to be offensive, and the lack of basic functionality, like the ability to move the chat pane or pop it out as a separate window, like I can do in my Gmail account, is extremely irritating. I'm not a web designer, but I know enough about interface design to know it is not that difficult to implement such a feature. I've had facebook chats a couple of times through the Mrs.' account, and having to keep my neck bent down toward the bottom of the browser window gets uncomfortable very quickly.
The fact is, in today's connected world we no longer have privacy, but we still have some choices about who does or does not have information about us.

The one thing in the article that did bother me was the suggestion that employers and recruiters might look down on those who don't use facebook. Unless you are trying to get a job in "social media" (which I think used to be referred to as "marketing"), it shouldn't matter. In fact, I'd think that a potential employer would regard a lack of facebook use as a plus, i.e. no embarrassing photos out there, one less distraction during the work day, etc.


Well, it's been quite some time since I experienced a good old MBTA clusterfuck, so I suppose I was due. Today we were having a monthly staff meeting at work, so I wanted to make an effort to be on time. The bus was more or less on time, and I got to Wellington just before 8:20, only to find a full inbound platform and announcements that a "power problem" had knocked out service on the southern part of the Orange Line, but trains were still running.

Each time an inbound train rolled into the station, only a few people were able to squeeze on. Having had more than a lifetime's share of sardine-packed T rides, in such situations I tend to step back and let others subject themselves to squishing. But because part of the line had been cut off, there were fewer trains available than during a typical morning rush hour.

There was a lot of grumbling and eye rolling. I looked at my watch and saw that nearly 30 minutes had passed since I'd arrived. I was also getting cold, but not terribly so. Since we've been having this in-between weather for a while, I've been opting not to layer up because it's too easy to become overheated. Instead I've been wearing my usual layers of shirt and undershirt, and adding a scarf and a medium-weight coat.

Eventually the trains grew less crowded, but by the time I was able to board I'd been waiting on the platform for almost an hour, and the train was still pretty full. Then we rolled into Sullivan. I'd completely forgotten that things would be worse down the line. I sympathize with folks who have to board the Orange Line at Sullivan every day, because the trains are almost always packed after picking up passengers at Wellington, but people were just forcing themselves into the car.

I know I shouldn't really have been surprised at this, but I still was. I know, you need to get to work; everyone on that train has somewhere they need to be, and nobody likes to wait, and nobody likes to be stuck outside when it's cold. But I'm still taken aback at times by the overwhelming selfishness that has become the norm these days. I only needed to go three stops so I could switch to the Green Line, but I waited because I figured there were people who needed to get where they were going more urgently than I did.

I ended up missing about 90% of the meeting. Oh, well; stuff happens.

Addendum: Looking at the comments about this morning's incident on Universal Hub, I now realize that I should have taken an outbound train one stop to Malden, where I could have gotten on an inbound commuter rail train. But as the commenter points out, none of the PA announcements mentioned this option.

12 December 2011

More Candy

After I wrote about some of favorite holiday candy treats the other day, I realized that, while deserving, all the attention didn't need to be focused on See's.

Each year I eagerly anticipate the arrival (and subsequent discounting) of dark chocolate sea-salt caramels, nestled in their metal tins at Crate & Barrel. The price has climbed a couple of dollars since last year, but if you can score a tin or two after they've been marked down, they are well worth it.

New this year, and similar but just different enough, are dark chocolate covered peanut butter "bites," also sprinkled with sea salt. These come in a much smaller package (7 ounces, vs. a pound for the caramels) but they also cost less. As it turns out, both are already marked down, but if you can wait they'll go lower.

11 December 2011

This Week in Awesome (12/10/11)

With the Mrs. a full-time student, it's been tougher for me to get computer time on the weekends, but I'm doing my best for you guys...

Crazy-ass clip from a Bollywood cop movie. (Jalopnik)

Language nerds: this one's for us. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

The story of this viral video, and how it led to a music video, is pretty interesting. (Gawker)

And finally this week, a brief drawing lesson. (The Daily What)

09 December 2011

Fun Friday Read

Leave it to the British to come up with this one: the annual Bad Sex in Fiction award was bestowed earlier this week, chosen from among a dozen nominees.

08 December 2011

Want Some Candy?

Speaking of imminent holidays and sweet treats, the seasonal See's Candies pop-up stores are back. See's is a California-based chain beloved by the Mrs. since childhood. There are no permanent See's stores in our corner of the world, but for the better part of the past decade they have been operating temporary stores during the holiday season, and a (very) small selection of their offerings is available year-round at Lord & Taylor stores.

Among our favorites: the vanilla and butterscotch lollypops; the individually-wrapped bars in two varieties; the dark chocolate nuts-and-chews assortment; and what is quite possibly the best peanut brittle to be found anywhere (it's certainly the best I've tasted).

Any of their candy choices would make an excellent gift. In the Boston area, the temporary stores are in the Northshore, Natick, and Chestnut Hill malls, and in the Derby Street shops in Hingham. And they're always giving out free samples, as if you needed another enticement. To see if there's a pop-up near you, check the store locator page. If not, you can always order online.

06 December 2011


I do love that time each year when the egg nog finally shows up in the supermarket (though it seems like it gets earlier each year). I try to restrain myself, buying a quart and stretching it out for a couple of weeks. My current favorite is anything with vanilla flavor added; it's less eggy than the regular kind, and is more or less like drinking a vanilla milk shake.

The folks at Huffington Post's Kitchen Daily did a taste test of 17 varieties of egg nog. The results are quite interesting, I think, though I will say that I am entirely not surprised that the soy variations finished near the bottom of the list. I guess I need to try some of Trader Joe's version.

05 December 2011


Right around the time I ordered my iPhone, I saw a picture on a style blog of one that had its glass back swapped out for a metal one. I liked it, thought about it for a bit, and decided to order one for myself. It looks like this:
The back is held on by two extremely tiny screws in the bottom edge. They require a special star-pointed screwdriver, which you can get for a couple of bucks on eBay (that's what I did). The back came from a place in Hong Kong, and took about a week and a half to arrive. I got a weird-looking tracking number that is actually for the US Postal Service, and for a couple of days nothing came up when I entered it, then it showed up and became trackable.

The back panel couldn't be easier to replace: undo the screws (have a plastic cap or something around that you can put them in, since they're so small they would be easily lost), slide the back up a few millimeters, and lift it off the phone. The screws are a little hard to handle when reattaching, but it only took a minute or so.

There are a couple of different styles to choose from. One has a beveled edge, and another is described as "diamond cut" which, best I've been able to discern from the pictures, means the edge is metal-finished like the back, whereas the style I chose has a black edge, so if you look at the phone from the side, it looks just like the edge of the glass back. They're also available in some different colors, if that's your thing.

I thought swapping the back would make the phone lighter, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I have not noticed any difference in phone reception or data speed.

04 December 2011

This Week in Awesome (12/3/11)

Okay, I sort of stalled on this week's installment because I don't have as much as usual, but we'll just press on regardless.

This will remind you of any time you've had to deal with an obnoxious salesperson in a store. (Vimeo via Racked)

An imaginative (and rather downer) exploration of what happens to the people in catalog photos when no one's looking at them. (The Hairpin)

A collection of unseen TV characters. (The Daily What via Videogum)

Retro Video Unit (12/2/11)

This was supposed to be Friday's post...things have been busier than usual. TWiA will be up later today.

I wasn't looking for this particular video, but it's a nice artifact from early in the New Wave era:

01 December 2011

Gray Suede Shoes

I wasn't intending to talk about shoes two days in a row, but things happen... Over a year ago, I found suede bucks on Nordstrom's web site in an array of colors, including gray. I ordered a pair, and when they arrived I was dismayed to find that the toes were "burnished," which is apparently something that's fashionable to do to shoes to make them look lived-in. I exchanged them for dark khaki bucks that hadn't been messed with in any way.

Not long after that, I came across some nice-looking gray bucks made in Pennsylvania by Walk-Over, a company that's been around for a couple hundred years. They weren't cheap, but they were exactly what I wanted. I ended up convincing myself that I didn't need them, since I'd just gotten the other bucks. But one day back in the spring, I was shopping and saw the shoes (in other colors, but not the gray) and decided to try them on, to see how they fit and felt, with the idea that if I did decide at some point to order them, I would know what size to get.

Earlier this week, I came across a link to a sale on the Steven Alan web site. Even though most of their clothing is made in the USA, I never bother looking at their stuff because the prices are pretty high, their shirts are cut way too slim for me, and they make them with this horrible little detail (use the zoom feature and you'll be able to see what I mean) where the placket is twisted around, on purpose, between the collar and the second button.

Anyway, I decided to look at the sale just because I hadn't looked at their site in a long time. They also carry some things made by other companies, and in the sale section I found the gray Walk-Over bucks, marked down almost 30% off their usual price. They aren't carried by many places to begin with, and they don't tend to be on sale, so I decided to go ahead and get them. They're still on sale, if you are so inclined.

Purchases from the sale section are final, and if I hadn't tried on the shoes several months ago I wouldn't have been sure which size to get. They arrived today, and I'm very pleased. They have a 360-degree welt which makes them resoleable if necessary, and a full leather lining. Are they better than Nordstrom's bucks, which are made in Brazil? Not necessarily. The Nordstrom shoes have thicker cushioning in the soles, but they couldn't come up with a gray shoe that was unblemished.