31 December 2012


A couple of weeks ago I brought up our down comforter from storage in the basement. Because last winter was so unusually mild, we didn't even need the heavy-duty bedding, but this year I knew colder weather was on the way.

Then I got sick. Last Sunday night I got into bed and immediately started having chills. The comforter was leaning against a wall, waiting to be unpacked from its zipper bag. I got up, shivering, and quickly threw it on the bed. After I got back in bed and the warmth started slowly returning to my body, I realized that there is no warmth quite like the warmth one feels when nestled under a down comforter.

This one is around 20 years old. I distinctly remember buying it when I was still single, at the old Jordan Marsh store downtown. I'd been a fairly regular patron of their bedding department since realizing I needed to buy double-size sheets for the first time right after graduating from college.

Back in the early '90s, Jordan Marsh and its competitor Filene's ran their sale ads almost every day in the Boston Globe. Being underemployed and relatively poor, I would have been watching and waiting for a "white sale," and most likely purchased the comforter with money received for Christmas from my parents. I know it was around $70 at the time, which from this vantage point seems like a solid investment; nowadays I don't really know what one costs, but I do know that A Proper Bostonian recommends Cuddledown and The Company Store, and I also know courtesy of her that there's a Cuddledown outlet up in Freeport, Maine.

30 December 2012

Retro Video Unit (12/28/12)

It's been another slowish week around the ol' blog, with traveling for Christmas and recovering from a cold. TWiA is also taking this weekend off.

There is real snow falling outside the SAR abode, the first we've seen in quite some time. Still not sure what sort of winter we're in for, but my gut says a repeat of last year is too much to hope for.

Meanwhile, it seems I overlooked my final Retro Video of 2012.. sometimes I think of songs for this and wonder how I haven't thought of them sooner. That's certainly the case with this one, "A Million Miles Away" by The Plimsouls. This song is roughly 30 years old, and it still makes my spine tingle a bit every time I hear it. For me, it's about as close to perfection as a single song can be.

27 December 2012


I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had an excellent one. We ate ourselves silly and spent some time with my family. My cold is slowly departing, and since it's kind of unpleasant outside, it's a perfect day to stay in and watch movies.

I was a bit down on the holiday season this year, due to the setback of being laid off yet again. I wasn't able to bounce back quickly into another job as I'd hoped, and consequently I had to lower my expectations for giving and receiving. The Mrs. is still in school full-time, so we decided we didn't need to give each other anything.

Maybe I had to choose the more prudent path and forgo buying myself a Nook this year, but I can still roam used bookstores and find books I want to read for less than their ebook counterparts. Other big-ticket items can also wait, plus I have a pile of stuff that I can sell.

Ultimately, I realized that I have everything I need, and quite a bit more. Whatever else there is, is a bonus. Like the J. Crew gift cards I got from my family...

24 December 2012

Christmas Cold

I got an early Christmas present from the Mrs.: the cold she had last week. I haven't had the slightest illness in at least a couple of years, so I'm not too thrilled.

When she told me she felt like she was getting sick, I started fortifying myself with Emergen-C. I thought I was going to come through unaffected, but four days later I noticed a funny feeling and I knew I was getting it. The timing is terrible, as we're now at my family's house in Rhode Island. Now I have to see how quickly I can shake it.

23 December 2012

This Week in Awesome (12/22/12)

I may not have posted much this past week, but I was still diligently gathering internet stuff for you, my loyal readers...

There's still time for one more riff on A Charile Brown Christmas. (The Daily What)

The things that can be accomplished with a camera will never stop being fascinating to me. (Flickr via Laughing Squid)

Some of these people are trying too hard; others aren't trying hard enough. (Laughing Squid)

Jimmy Kimmel looks back on the Year in Unnecessary Censorship. (Hypervocal)

And finally this week, car-nut site Jalopnik has a recurring feature of crazy video footage from Russian dashboard cameras. (Apparently most people in Russia drive around with a dash-mounted camera to prevent insurance fraud from faked accidents.) Appropriately, they did a year-end wrap-up of the most insane moments captured on video, and it does not disappoint.

21 December 2012

Seasonal Discounts

I know I've been light on posts this week. It was unintentional; I guess I've had less inspiration than usual.

I have probably said this before, but while gift-giving to family and friends is thoughtful and nice, this is a great time of year to shop for oneself. The holiday season coincides nicely with the end of the fall clothing season for retailers, and all kinds of great markdowns are happening.

Since spring I've been looking for a dress shirt in chambray fabric. It's one of those unusual items that no one really needs, but it can make an outfit more interesting. I would most likely wear it with a tweed sportcoat and a tie, but in the right situation you could wear one with a suit.

Shoe mainstay Allen Edmonds offers a small selection of clothing, and they introduced a chambray dress shirt this fall, but at $125 it was out of reach for me. Now, though, it has been marked down to $50, which is 60% off. The catch: it's a trim fit, so it's not for everyone. Banana Republic is offering a similar shirt at a regular price of $80, with 30% off discount codes readily available to bring it down to $56.

Neither of these shirts is offered in neck-and-sleeve dress shirt sizing (I haven't been able to find any such offering in chambray), so its usefulness could be something of a gamble. From the size info on the AE site I learned that the sizing was a bit unusual: the medium has a 16 neck. I wear a 16 in dress shirts, but that usually corresponds to a large, so I was concerned about how it would fit in the body, especially being a size down from my "usual."

I decided I needed to try it on. I was going to order one online, but I was out the other day and my local AE store had the shirt in stock, so I bought one there. To my surprise, the medium fits, though it's definitely close-fitting. That's how I prefer dress shirts to fit, and it's no slimmer than any of my other dress shirts. The collar also buttons and fits properly, so I can wear it with a tie, which is the point after all. Even the sleeves are the correct length. I think it's just plain luck that it fits me so well.

There are a couple of other styles of "dress shirts" available from AE right now at the same discounted price, a tattersall in blue and white or khaki and white, or a blue and white butcher stripe. By the way, all the Allen Edmonds shirts are made in USA, which is fairly unusual, and it's highly unlikely you will find other American-made shirts for $50 anytime soon. Sizes are getting limited, so they probably won't last much longer. If you live near an AE store, I'd suggest checking to see what they have in stock.

19 December 2012

Foot Update

At the risk of boring everyone, my foot still hurts and I imagine it will for a while, but it's been no worse than it was a week ago, when it was the most painful, and has maybe even gotten a little better.

I've been able to keep things more or less steady with ice and the gel heel cushions. Even walking around in New York didn't hurt as much as I thought it would.

Maybe it will start to improve, but at least I'm able to get around normally. My folding cane arrived today; I'd hoped to have it for the trip, but I still think it might be a good idea to keep it in case my recovery doesn't progress as I'm hoping.

17 December 2012

24 Hours

We went to New York over the weekend, but due to time and budget constraints we stayed over only one night this time. With such a short amount of time to spend, it's best to have a couple of things you want to accomplish and let the rest happen as it may.

In this case our primary goal was to eat. You can spend a fortune on some of the world's best dining in New York, but one of the things I love about the city is that you can have a great time and eat very well without spending a lot. If you're planning on visiting New York, these are places I recommend going.

Shake Shack will be coming to Massachusetts next year (specifically Chestnut Hill), but it's still fun to visit the original location in Madison Square Park. The food is delicious and fresh, and you can have a burger, fries, and shake for around $15. (I skipped the fries.) The park location is a walk-up stand with outdoor seating; on Saturday it was mostly sunny and around 47 degrees, still a bit chilly to eat outside, but there are heat-lamp fixtures to cut the chill. If that's not your thing, there are other Manhattan locations with indoor seating.

Over on Second Avenue in the East Village, a humble candy store that opened in 1954 evolved into Veselka, a homey 24-hour place serving "Ukranian soul food" (pierogi, goulash, stuffed cabbage) along with sandwiches and burgers, breakfast, desserts, and other good stuff. After three visits I can say this is a place I would be happy to eat at every single time I'm in New York. Authentic atmosphere can't be manufactured; it has to be earned, and Veselka is the real deal. They've opened a second location a few blocks away, but it's more of a bar scene (over 100 vodkas are offered) with a more modern, more expensive menu. I'm sure it's good, but I'll stick with the original.

On Sunday morning we headed for the Doughnut Plant on Grand Street. I love doughnuts, but I try to have them only occasionally, and there's little worse than having a bad doughnut and the accompanying feeling of having wasted the calories on one. You will have no such worry at the Doughnut Plant; in fact, this place is worth breaking any kind of diet you may be on.

It's a doughnut lover's paradise: the cake doughnuts are offered in flavors like pistachio and triple chocolate mint; the filled doughnuts are square (seriously); and there are smaller specialty "doughseeds" like creme brulee and chocolate hazelnut. Right now they're also offering doughnuts in seasonal holiday flavors like cranberry, marzipan, gingerbread, and panettone.

Nothing I've tried is too sweet, which makes me feel a tiny bit less guilty about them. I think the peanut butter and blackberry jam is a must-try; it's definitely my favorite so far. There's also a second location on the ground floor of the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street, if you don't feel like heading all the way downtown.

15 December 2012

This Week in Awesome (12/15/12)

If you're seeing this on Saturday morning, the Mrs. and I are on our way to New York, but I still left you something for the weekend...

As both a word nerd and an all-around persnickety person, I love this sort of stuff. (The Atlantic)

This clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas may not be exactly the way you remember it. (Laughing Squid)

Here's a fun bit of retro-futurism to waste some time with. (Mashable via Basket of Kisses)

And finally this week, two takeoffs on Breaking Bad from two different sources. The second one also amounts to a Downton Abbey spoof. (Tastefully Offensive; Colbert Nation)

14 December 2012

Retro Video Unit (12/14/12)

After my link to the Pogues story last weekend, the choice for this installment is an obvious one:

Pain Management

The past few days have been interesting, if not exactly pleasant. I've been in considerable pain whenever I walk, but I can't exactly give up walking. Here are a few things I've discovered.

First, pain relievers aren't helping at all. I tried both naproxen and ibuprofen, and neither made any difference. Given that, I don't see much point in taking them. Icing my foot has helped; I just have to remember to do it. Also, stretching works the foot and leg, though that hurts too.

What has also made a difference are gel heel cushions in my shoes. It seems obvious, but they do make walking a bit less painful. Also, I found that using them in a pair of shoes with a relatively flat sole was more comfortable than in shoes with a more defined heel. That goes against advice I read to use arch supports, but I've never had good arches so maybe that's why flat shoes are working better for me. Of course, I don't want to be limited to wearing one style of shoes.

I've been a fast walker my whole life, so it's frustrating to have no choice but to move more slowly.

While looking for canes online, I found that there are collapsible canes, something I hadn't thought about in decades (in college I knew a guy with worse vision than me, who used to use a folding cane to aid in getting around without tripping over curbs and such). If I'm going to choose that option, even occasionally, it would be nice to have something compact that I could store in my bag or in a pocket, so I ordered a folding cane. (My local CVS had only standard canes, and I can imagine myself losing one of those.)

Maybe it's something I'll only use if I've been walking a lot, or if my heel is feeling particularly painful, but I think it would be a good idea to have one around.

12 December 2012

Sleep Pretty

I saw these in a drugstore a couple of weeks ago. Presented without comment...

11 December 2012


I think I might have plantar fascitis. I've had pain in my right heel for a couple of weeks but I didn't think much about it until it started getting more painful a few days ago. Today I was out for a few hours and did a fair amount of walking, and after an hour or so my heel really started to hurt.

I have not talked to a doctor about this, but some quick online research combined with what I can vaguely recall from our published content where I used to work suggests that PF is the most likely cause. The initial treatment is pain relievers and ice, and stretching is also recommended.

The bad thing is, we're making a very brief trip (just overnight) trip to New York this weekend, and that always means a lot of walking. It wasn't mentioned anywhere in what I read, but I think a cane or walking stick might help, since it would let me take some weight off my right foot when walking. I may try to find one tomorrow. It's a medical aid—and a fashion statement! Right?

Getting old sure is fun...

Sixties Style

This seems like a good time to mention that Mad Men is back in production (and has been for a month or so, I believe). Here are some pix of Elisabeth Moss as Peggy, standing next to new boss Ted Chaough in the funky umber-brown suit.

By now we're probably closer to the start of season six than the end of season five, which is a very good thing.

09 December 2012

This Week in Awesome (12/8/12)

What's the best type of whiskey to use in egg nog?

HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall has written a book about how shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men have changed television. An excerpt about Lost will give you a taste. (Grantland)

This week's time-lapse video takes us to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. (The Daily What)

Jimmy Fallon and Tracy Morgan read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. But you'd probably watch the two of them read just about anything, right? (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon via Hulu)

Here's a collection of photos taken by people with an uncanny combination of luck and good timing. (BuzzFeed)

And finally this week, the story behind my favorite Christmas song, "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl. (The Guardian via The Awl)

08 December 2012


My Visa card earns me $10 credits to use at L.L. Bean. I guess I don't shop there as much as I used to, because I noticed last week that my credits were accumulating. I also noticed that they expire one year after being issued, and the oldest would expire in January.

I did need a new bathrobe, so I looked over that section of their website. I was going to get a regular flannel robe, but then I noticed that Bean offers robes made of its chamois cloth. It's thicker and heftier than flannel, perfect for a robe.

It's available in three solid colors (navy, gray, burgundy) and two plaids (green/black and red/black). I went with the red and black plaid, and it's very cozy, and more comfortable than the robe I had before. These are also available in tall sizes, which might be nice if you are over 6 feet.

When I ordered mine there was 15% off for Bean cardholders; after that I applied almost all of my $10 credits, so the robe cost me nearly nothing. I kept a couple of credits for future use, and I got a $10 gift card with the order.

06 December 2012

The Party Don't Stop

Key & Peele is a very funny sketch show on Comedy Central. This was on a few weeks ago, but I thought it was one of the funnier bits they did this season. (The show got picked up for a third season and will be back some time in '13.)

It takes a minute or two for the gag to become evident here, so stay with it...

05 December 2012

Twill and Tweed

I don't need a new daily-carry bag, having bought an excellent one just over a year ago, but this just-released beauty from Filson certainly caught my eye. They've taken their standard waxed-cotton briefcase and added Harris Tweed accents.
(image borrowed from Filson website)

I love the colors in this, and it's just a great-looking pattern that goes so well with Filson's "otter green" twill fabric. The bag is also available in black with black-and-white herringbone tweed, but to my eye that one doesn't look nearly as good as this one does.

04 December 2012

Canine Dietary Choices

We have always been very careful about what our dog eats. She's 11 now, and we want to make sure she doesn't become overweight and put unnecessary stress on her legs. We don't give her any food or treats that come from overseas (little or no regulation of ingredients), and we are careful about the food we do buy for her.

Dogs love dairy products, but they should be given only in small amounts. Our dog gets a spoonful of plain yogurt on her food each day because it's good for her coat and her digestion. Otherwise human food—an occasional nibble of chicken or cheese, a few licks of vanilla ice cream—is a very rare treat.

Which brings me to this...
If I told you I had no idea how this happened, would you believe me?

03 December 2012

Yard Work

Our next-door neighbor is having a tree removed from his yard today. It's located on the edge of his property between his garage and ours, but the bulk of it hung over our garage, so the tree service needed to use our driveway to get its bucket truck close enough.

As a result we've had a front-row seat for the whole endeavor since about 8:30 this morning. Right now they've swapped the bucket for a giant chipper to devour the branches. Parked in the narrow space between the two houses, it is extremely loud.

02 December 2012

This Week in Awesome (12/1/12)

Hello, December. Wait, what?

Show your support for your favorite historical event with one of these fictional nonfiction T-shirts. (Laughing Squid)

Have you ever watched an old movie and thought to yourself, "This movie needs Nicolas Cage"? Done. (Pleated Jeans via Videogum)

This is my kind of Advent calendar. (Instructables)

And finally this week, some music: a BuzzFeed list of 22 worthy albums that folks may have overlooked this year. I'm not quite as plugged into what's happening in music as I used to be, so I have only one of these. (BuzzFeed via The Hairpin)

(Not really related, but worth mentioning: I have to praise BuzzFeed for eschewing slideshows on its list pages. I despise them and want them to go away forever, along with the infinitely-scrolling page style that facebook has inflicted on all of us, whether we use the site or not.)

30 November 2012

Retro Video Unit (11/30/12)

This one popped up on my iPod as we were driving home from Thanksgiving. One of the many synthesizer-based bands that found success in the early 1980s, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) had a series of hit singles including "If You Leave" from the soundtrack of the John Hughes movie Pretty In Pink.

Though this song, "Enola Gay," is from their second album, it's the first song I ever heard by them. Like some other '80s bands, OMD reformed several years back and are again recording and performing.

Deal Alert

You never have to pay full price for anything from Lands' End, because there are constant coupon codes available. Some codes offer better discounts than others, but it seems like they offer 30% off at least every couple of weeks. (Usually you have to spend $50 to get free shipping.) Maybe every six weeks or so, LE offers a code for 40% off one item, which is a good way to purchase something with a higher regular price.

A few months ago LE introduced American-made jeans, after earlier bringing out American-made sweats and T-shirts. I haven't tried on the jeans or seen them in person, but the effort to offer this type of product at a more reasonable price than comparable US-made jeans is admirable. The regular price for these jeans is just below $100, and with the 40% off code you can get a pair for under $60, shipped to you for free. (If you aren't happy with them, you can return them to any Sears store that sells Lands' End merchandise.)

To make things just a little more confusing, LE offers these US-made jeans in both their regular line and in their more modern Canvas line, and each of those is available in two fits. The differences between all of the fits are a little nebulous, but generally the Canvas items are cut slimmer and have a lower waist than their standard LE counterparts. With the free shipping and easy returns, you could order your size in two fits and see if you prefer one to the other.

The current code JINGLE and PIN 1203 (you need both at checkout) is good through Monday, December 3rd. The $50 minimum for free shipping applies, but ordering even one pair of these jeans will put you over that.

Gift Idea: Tickets to Something

I'm not presumptuous enough to try to put together a comprehensive holiday gift guide, but sometimes it's difficult to come up with the right gift for someone.

One suggestion is to consider getting tickets to a play or musical, a concert, the opera, the ballet, the circus—it can be any sort of event, as long as you know the recipient will enjoy going, and you will enjoy going with her/him. I know someone who reads this blog who once took his then-girlfriend to a monster truck event on Valentine's Day. (Your mileage may vary depending on your recipient's capacity for appreciation of irony.) Or, if your giftee loves Gregorian chants and you can't handle them, consider giving the tickets with the intention of having the recipient bring another friend or relative.

The cool thing about this gift choice is, the person receiving the gift has the excitement of opening it and seeing what it is, then a whole other round of anticipation leading up to the event itself. If it happens to be in another city and requires travel, like a Broadway show in New York, then that makes it even more exciting.

One thing to remember: for many one-time events like concerts, tickets can go on sale as far as six months ahead of the event date, so depending on your loved one's interests, you may need to be thinking about this gift and planning it well ahead of time. But it will be worth it, and it will show you've been paying attention.

28 November 2012

Vintage Tech

Today I saw a guy with a portable CD player. I guess some people just prefer to keep it old school.

27 November 2012


Following up from last week, here are some additional pictures of the vintage Brooks Brothers tweed jacket I recently acquired.
The fabric is a traditional black and white weave, but the pattern is slightly less so. Instead of a typical herringbone, this is less regular—I think I have seen this referred to as a "broken bone" pattern, with the longer diagonal sections interspersed with shorter, zigzag sections.
On top of that, there's a windowpane. The horizontal lines are sort of a beige or light tan, but the vertical lines are a bright blue. Taken all together it makes for a very unusual and distinctive pattern. Flecks of other colors are scattered around randomly in the weave, something else I like.
The lapels are 3.5" wide, which is perfect—not too wide, not too narrow. Three-button front rolls very nicely to the center button. Two-button cuffs aren't seen much these days, which affirms my belief that this is at least a few decades old, but there isn't anything to go on in terms of interior labeling that could help narrow it down.
I'm not a big fan of patch pockets, but as long as they have flaps they make perfect sense on a jacket like this one. (Open-top patch pockets are a little too European for my taste.)

I have a beautiful Donegal tweed jacket that I got from Lands' End about 15 years ago, back when they were still offering very nice stuff at very reasonable prices, and it was made in the USA. Unfortunately this jacket no longer fits me, so for at least the past year I have been searching for a suitable replacement. I wanted something very specific, and this was a lucky confluence of color, pattern, fit, and price. The fact that it's vintage is just a bonus.

26 November 2012

Monday Reality Check

There's nothing quite like accidentally poking yourself in the eye to put everything in perspective.

25 November 2012

This Week in Awesome (11/24/12)

I hope you all have had a pleasant holiday weekend. Now let's get back to the usual foolishness...

TV news bloopers—nothing more need be said. (The Daily What)

This is one of the more interesting music mashups I've seen (heard?) in quite a while. (Laughing Squid via Waxy)

This collection of objects reminds me of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Paradise Row via The Daily What)

I can't imagine having this much free time, but if I did I doubt I'd spend it this way. Also, it must have cost a fortune. (The Daily What)

And finally this week, if you've ever wanted to travel the entire length of Route 66, give this a look. (Laughing Squid)

24 November 2012

Food Thoughts

Yesterday my mother said she wanted pizza for dinner. It's kind of an ideal way to phase out of turkey and all the trimmings.

And apple pie makes an excellent Saturday morning breakfast.

21 November 2012

Time and Texture

I took this shot today with my phone, for no reason other than I liked how everything looked together:
The Spaceview has been seen before; the shirt is an L.L. Bean Signature chambray, the jacket is a vintage Brooks Brothers tweed that I recently scored on eBay. It's a very interesting jacket, so I think I'll post some additional shots of it soon.

20 November 2012

Another Chance for Pie

Following up from last week's Pie Day post: the deadline to order a pie was last Saturday, but if you want to get a pie and support Community Servings, you can still do so.

Tomorrow is pickup day for those who pre-ordered pies, and as I have done for the past three years, I will be at a pickup location downtown. If you missed out on pre-ordering, the good news is that many of these locations will also be doing walk-up sales.

Over the years so many people stopped at the pickup tables and said that they had forgotten to order, or hadn't heard of Community Servings and Pie in the Sky, so it was natural to offer this option. Here is the list of on-site sales locations.

19 November 2012

Closed on Thanksgiving

Yeah, TWiA did not happen this weekend, in case anyone was wondering. It'll definitely be back next weekend.

At this point I'm pretty sure I don't have to mention that you should not go shopping on Black Friday, right? So it totally goes without saying that you shouldn't go shopping on Thanksgiving Day either, unless you're doing it on your computer. Besides, the Patriots are playing the Jets in prime time on Thursday, so why would you be doing anything else instead of watching that?

Anyway, I got an email today from JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson that reads, in part:
...and yes, we're going to start our Black Friday—on Friday.
I know that some retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year. But spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America's greatest traditions. Since jcp was founded on the Golden Rule, I'm proud to honor this tradition by keeping our stores closed on this special day.
I hope our customers and employees all enjoy a wonderful holiday with loved ones.
Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for doing your part to respect this holiday. Look, I understand that some people don't enjoy holidays for whatever reasons, and not everyone gets along with their family members. But there also have to be some limits to the lengths retailers will go to to separate people from their money, and the effect these policies have on their employees.

I keep hearing that working on these Thursday-night openings is voluntary, and there may be employees who do want to work those shifts, but having spent more than a decade working in various retail settings, I know too well that "voluntary" often means "compulsory." I think retail employees deserve to have the Thanksgiving holiday off, and I think that staying away from stores on Thursday night is a simple thing you can do to show your support for that belief.

17 November 2012

Retro Video Unit (11/16/12)

I'm in the mood for a trip in the wayback machine, back to some real first-wave new wave. Who better, then, than Gary Numan?

He wasn't the first rock performer to float the "I've just arrived on your planet from outer space and I'm here to blow your minds and change music forever" story, but he certainly looked like it might have been true.

His early releases were genuinely groundbreaking, and he's still recording and touring after nearly four decades, mainly in Europe, where he has remained popular all along. Here's one of my favorite songs of his, "Down in the Park," a live version from the outstanding compilation album Urgh! A Music War.

14 November 2012

Don't Be An...

I just learned that there is a book about the history of the word "asshole" and what it has come to mean in our society. It's a serious book, written by a linguist. This is excellent; I want to read it.

13 November 2012

Hi There

I spent a couple of hours today trying to coax people into having a free piece of cake, explaining why free cake was being given away, and handing them postcards they could refer to after they'd walked away and forgotten what I'd said.

I haven't dealt with the public in any meaningful capacity for almost seven years. I've never handed out flyers or anything like that. But what was very interesting about today was: I had a hell of a time just getting people to make eye contact, even as I was speaking to them.

As people walked toward me in the mall corridor, I would say "hi there" or "hello" or something like that. Talk about a tough crowd. I'd say I had barely a 1% success rate. And I'm not talking about the people texting, talking on the phone, or otherwise manipulating a digital device. I didn't even bother with them. When people try to talk to me or hand me things on the street, I always say "no thanks" so they at least know I'm not ignoring them.

If I succeeded in making eye contact, it was a lot easier. I would then say something like, "Are you in the mood for some dessert?" That got most people's attention. But most people wouldn't even acknowledge that I was speaking to them. Look, I get it, you're on your lunch break, you only have 30 minutes and you have to get three other errands done before you have to go back. I'm not trying to poison you or sell you anything. Really. I'm just trying to get you to look me in the eye for a second, that's all. Come on, give it a try.

12 November 2012

Pie Day 2012

In years past I've mentioned local organization Community Servings and the great work they do bringing meals to ill people all over the Boston area (and now in Worcester as well). This is the time of year when CS has its big fall fundraiser, Pie in the Sky. The pies, which are baked by dozens of area restaurants and bakeries, are $25, and that amount provides a full week of meals for a client.

Tuesday, November 13th is Pie Day. Volunteers will be at several sites around Boston and Cambridge, offering pie samples and information about Pie in the Sky. In the morning visit Dewey Square from 8 am to 9:30ish (pie for breakfast is awesome, and they'll have coffee too), or come by the Prudential Center from 11 am to 2 pm (I'll be there). From 4:30 to 6:30 pm there will be folks in both Kendall Square (Marriott courtyard) and Central Square (Cambridge City Hall).

11 November 2012

This Week in Awesome (11/10/12)

Gotta love the weather around here: snowstorm last Tuesday night, 60 degrees today, 65 tomorrow, back to the mid-40s by Wednesday...

This fascinating series creates time-lapse videos of cities with people and vehicles digitally removed. There are four installments so far, with more sure to come. All of them are here, along with some behind-the-scenes clips.

New York magazine goes behind the scenes of its post-hurricane issue's cover image. (Kempt)

The latest installment of PBS's Off Book series (which I've referenced previously) looks at outdated forms of media and why people still care about them. (Laughing Squid)

And finally this week, I'm just going to leave this over here... this woman is the definition of awesome. It's 16 minutes long and worth it, but if you don't feel like watching all of it, just jump to the 12:50 mark. (Dangerous Minds)

10 November 2012

At the Movies

I really want to see Skyfall (naturally), but I decided I didn't feel like dealing with opening-weekend madness. We did go to a movie last night, though: Argo. It was kind of a make-up for planning to go see it the previous two weekends, and failing.

It's a really good movie, quite tense and suspenseful. I have to give credit to Ben Affleck as a director. He has demonstrated good instincts in the projects he's chosen to direct, and his execution of them keeps getting better. It also has the feel of a movie from the time in which it takes place: there's a certain graininess to the image on screen, and the colors are appropriately washed out and muted.

As for the Bond movie, I think it merits seeing on an IMAX screen, so we're going to plan to see it at Jordans.

08 November 2012

Or Not...

A pleasant surprise: by the time I got up this morning, the snow had turned to rain and washed away whatever was sticking to the sidewalks last night, so I didn't have to shovel after all. If it had been a little warmer in the early part of this week, this would have been just a rainstorm with a lot of wind. It's still pretty unpleasant outside now, though.

07 November 2012

November Surprise

I am definitely going to have to shovel snow tomorrow morning... what fun.

Direct Effect?

So now that the president has been reelected, I automatically get a new job, right? Isn't that how it works? Related: we were also promised jetpacks, and flying cars...

05 November 2012

Uniqlo Online Shopping: In-Person Report

After Uniqlo's US e-commerce went live two weeks ago, you know I had to get in on the action right away. I placed an order that very afternoon, and since their warehouse is in New Jersey (and the hurricane hadn't happened yet) I got my package only two days later.

There were some "grand opening" type specials, including colored jeans for $10. I wasn't interested in those, but after looking around for a while I discovered that a couple of styles of their plain dark denim were also available for $10 (the regular price is $50), so I ordered a pair of those.

I've been going back and forth on Uniqlo's pants since my first visit to the Soho store in 2007. Most of their stuff has been cut wrong for my middle-aged body, but on my visit back in April of this year I bought a pair of their vintage chinos that I like a lot, and they have added a "relaxed fit" jean cut. Unfortunately that style wasn't part of the $10 promotion; the one that was is called "regular fit."

I would describe that fit as not quite as regular as I'd expected or hoped. It does fit, but the waist is still a little low for my taste. I've seen them described as similar to the Levi's 514, which I've never tried on, mainly because the legs are pretty skinny, but it may be a helpful reference point for some people. The leg openings on the Uniqlo jeans are closer to what I usually wear, and I will wear these, but probably not as much as my now-preferred Levi's 505s. I think it's in my interest to try on the Uniqlo relaxed fit at some point, but I'll probably wait until I'm in New York again.

One other note about the Uniqlo denim: the dye is very dark, and it came with a warning about rubbing off on lighter-colored upholstery and clothing. That could get to be a nuisance, and might be a deal-breaker for some people. I soaked my pair overnight in the washing machine, and it seemed to remove some of the excess dye, but I have no idea how much, or how transferable they still are.

I also bought a V-neck lambswool sweater at the everyday price of $20, which is a genuine bargain. The fabric is a nice weight—not too thick, not too thin—and the XL fits me well, as do all XL tops (shirts and sweaters) that I've bought from Uniqlo. However, the color was not what I expected; on the website it looked like a deep cobalt, but in person it's definitely navy. Getting color representation right is one of the toughest things to accomplish in e-commerce, and I think a bit of "caveat emptor" is warranted. If this was one of their $80 cashmere sweaters it would be worth it for me to pay $7 to return it, but in this case I'll probably just give it to someone else, since I don't wear navy.

I added a couple of pairs of socks and a couple of pairs of underwear to my order. This is one area where Uniqlo excels: the quality is very good and the prices are very cheap. If you're trying to get to the $100 threshold for free shipping, this would be an easy way to fill out an order.

One other note: at the moment, Uniqlo's site says they have temporarily suspended online shopping due to the storm's aftermath. Let's hope they get back to normal soon.

04 November 2012

This Week in Awesome (11/3/12)

Got together with most of my laid-off former coworkers last night, and had a really nice time catching up. I don't miss working, but I miss being around them every day.

Many TV shows, when looked at in hindsight, exhibited curious and questionable fashion choices. For a show set in space, the weirdness factor gets a lot higher. (Racked)

Here's a pre-hurricane video of New York that cleverly combines daylight and nighttime footage of the same locations. (Laughing Squid)

The Boston Business Journal did some hard-hitting and necessary research to compile this list of the ten oldest bars in Boston. I've only been to half of them. (Universal Hub)

Google's satellite images can be used for all sorts of purposes. (The Daily What)

And finally this week, an erroneous rumor about Chrysler shifting Jeep production to China (that stemmed from a story about Chrysler's desire to add supplemental Jeep production in China) led to several instances of misinformation being reported as fact, including a tweet from that Apprentice guy. He was promptly and amusingly shot down by Chrysler's VP of design. (Jalopnik)

03 November 2012

Retro Video Unit (11/2/12)

As the clock winds down to the election (and we'll finally be rid of all the political ads on TV for... what, the next three months or so?), I saw this clip and thought I'd deviate from the usual content of this feature:

02 November 2012


Today I walked through a part of the neighborhood I hadn't been by in a while, and came upon this:
This tree was at the back edge of a park where we sometimes take the dog to sniff around. Just behind the park's border fence is a house, but when it came down it went in exactly the opposite direction from the house. It also appears to have missed all the utility wires.

31 October 2012

Period Incorrect

I've been watching the new CBS series Vegas (not to be confused with NBC's dreadful Las Vegas from half a decade ago, or the late-1970s ABC private-eye show Vega$). The premise is very loosely based on the life of Ralph Lamb, a rancher who became sheriff in 1960 and remained in the position for nearly two decades.

I was drawn in initially by the show's pedigree, with Nicholas Pileggi, the author of the books on which GoodFellas and Casino are based (and co-writer with Martin Scorsese of those films' screenplays) as its co-creator. Pileggi's involvement probably helped to lure Dennis Quaid to accept his first regular TV series role as Lamb, and Michael Chiklis of The Shield to come on board as mobster Vincent Savino. Jason O'Mara (star of the American version of Life On Mars) and Carrie-Anne Moss (probably best known as Trinity from the Matrix trilogy, here an amusing contrast in 1960s clothes and hair) are other appealing reasons to watch.

The idea of Quaid and Chiklis's characters as adversaries made me interested enough to sample Vegas, along with the setting at the beginning of the Mad Men era. To its credit the show looks terrific, but unfortunately it's turning out to have the familiar feel of many other cop shows: a case of the week intertwined with longer story arcs involving Savino's ambitions to become a legitimate businessman, and the conflicts this causes with his bosses back in Chicago.

But my biggest gripe with the show has nothing to do with the storytelling, but with the props, specifically the cars and trucks being used. It's been made clear to viewers that these initial episodes are taking place in 1960, but most of the vehicles that have appeared so far are newer. There are a couple of 1961 models (Savino's Lincoln Continental, the assistant DA's Thunderbird) which could kind of be excused, depending on the specific point in the calendar year the show is in, but there have been plenty of 1962 and 1963 models, and even a few '64s and '65s running around in the background. Even the sheriff's pickup truck is at least two or three years too new.

(Speaking of Mad Men, both Don's 1962 Cadillac and Betty's 1962 Mercury station wagon have made appearances, indicating the producers are using the same vintage car supplier.)

Now, most people wouldn't notice this, and fewer would care. The reason it jumps out to me as a glaring error is because, for the American car companies, 1960 was a crucial turning point in the evolution of automobile design. The designs of the 1950s grew increasingly gaudy and outlandish with each passing year, but by 1959 the stylists finally realized that they had pushed the excess too far. The designs of 1960 models generally represented a fresh application of restraint that would lead to a decade of style high points before once again swinging back to excess during the 1970s.

With that in mind, the show's use of newer cars results in the atmosphere looking confused. There should still be plenty of older 1950s cars on view and in regular use, and there are some, but not enough; the choice of using mostly post-1960 cars makes it look like the show is set in the middle of the 1960s instead of the beginning. If you're trying to establish the mood of a certain place and time, such details make a difference. Matthew Weiner certainly knows this, but it seems like the producers of Vegas aren't as interested in being as true as possible to their show's setting, and this ends up detracting and distracting from the rest of what's on screen.

30 October 2012

Storm Aftermath

I was just out walking the dog, and things are much quieter than they were 24 hours ago. But even so, we barely got touched by this thing, and we're extremely lucky compared to just about everywhere else. We never even lost power.

We got our share of high winds, and this morning there were tree branches all over the place. A couple of substantial limbs dropped into the street across from us yesterday, and within an hour or two a city crew came around with a truck pulling a wood chipper to clear them and turn them into mulch.

The next-door neighbors' back fence was knocked down, but I'm not sure how securely it was installed to begin with; a couple of years ago the teenagers who live there had a party, and eventually the police arrived to break it up, and some of the guests decided to, um, leave hastily by climbing over that same fence, and in the process it fell down, so who knows.

The dog had a tough time yesterday. The Mrs. took her out in the morning, before things had really gotten going. I took her out later on in the afternoon, and she turned around and headed back toward the house almost immediately. A few hours later it was the same thing, except the conditions were much worse. It wasn't until around 10:30 that it had calmed down enough for her to be able to complete her bodily functions.

29 October 2012

Trash Day Gamble

Monday is trash day where we live. With the storm coming I decided it wasn't such a good idea for the trash can to sit out at the curb overnight, so I reasoned that the city would delay collection by a day, like they do on holiday weekends. But the truck just came through. Most of the neighbors had put out their trash, and almost all their cans had been knocked down before the pickup. Oh well...

28 October 2012

This Week in Awesome (10/27/12)

At some point I hope to get back to posting these on Saturday...

Just in time for Halloween: frightening, and also kind of hilarious. (Blogfood)

This collection of tips and suggestions takes a while to scroll through, but it's worth it. (Kottke via The Billfold)

Time-lapse time. This week's destination: Paris, part one and part two. (Laughing Squid)

Here's an article about the, um, distinctive commercials employed by the Carvel ice cream chain back in the 1970s and '80s. It refers to the "tri-state area" of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut where many Carvel stores were concentrated, but I grew up in Rhode Island with a Carvel just a bit up the road, and I'm quite familiar with these commercials because they ran on our local TV stations too. (AdAge via The Awl)

And finally this week, I don't know why I didn't think to post this after it first ran on Adult Swim a couple of weeks back, but crush objects Jon Hamm and Adam Scott did a spoof/homage to the '80s-tastic TV series Simon & Simon. You can also find some background on how it came together over here.

26 October 2012

Pop-Ups and Fleas

Last weekend I stopped by a couple of clothing-related events taking place in the area. On Saturday I visited the American Field pop-up organized by Ball and Buck. It was a prime opportunity for close-up inspection of all sorts of American-made clothing and gear. I thought this was going to be an outdoor event, but it was inside an old building in the South End. (Maybe a hedge against the weather?) The live music was too loud for the indoor space, and the promised food trucks didn't materialize (there was one lone truck), but otherwise this is an event I'd like to see happening annually.

The highlights for me: imploring the rep from Red Wing to pass along my request to make more of their offerings in wide widths; getting hands-on with San Francisco's Tellason jeans (at $200 a pair they are definitely beyond my budget now, but someday I'm going to find a way to own a pair of these); and seeing Maine's Rancourt & Co. shoes in person for the first time—the quality and workmanship of these is really impressive, and they're also an excellent value. I also enjoyed looking over the goods from Taylor Stitch (also a San francisco company) and learning that their shirts are offered in chest sizes, which provides a better fit for more men.

On Sunday it was over to the VFW in Davis Square for the sixth edition of An Affordable Wardrobe's semi-annual Top Shelf Flea Market. It's always nice to stop by, say hello to Giuseppe, and chat about clothes. This time I was able to bring home something genuinely interesting and cool: a deadstock (old, but never sold) Brooks Brothers dress shirt (pics here) in my size, white with burgundy stripes and a semi-spread collar, still sporting a price tag from Filene's Basement along with its original collar stays and obvious fold lines from being in its original packaging for a long time. It's difficult to tell just how old this is, but the shirt is made in USA and the price tag suggests it probably dates from at least the late 1990s.

25 October 2012


Orvis came through: the shirt arrived yesterday. I'll probably never know how the wrong shirt got attached to the right image, but something must have been going on with their inventory. I'd offer to work for them in inventory control, but their warehouse is in Virginia.

24 October 2012

Her Ignorance Is Showing (and Telling)

As you know, I avoid politics in this space. It has to do with how I was brought up and my distaste of how the media already covers political issues in our country. But after I heard about this I was furious. Fortunately, John Franklin Stephens wrote a far more eloquent and dignified reply than I would have been capable of (and more than I think was deserved), so I decided to make an exception.

I am quoting this material directly from The Daily What:
After Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a retard in a tweet during Monday night's presidential debate, Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens penned her this open letter:
Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are — and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven't made yet, 
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia
Ann Coulter is a miserable, despicable excuse for a human being. Her venomous ignorance reflects poorly on all of us as humans and as Americans. I am generally disinclined to wish harm to others, but if something terrible were to happen to her I would not be the tiniest bit upset.

23 October 2012


So, another phone call from Orvis customer service, this time with the good news that they were able to locate the shirt I wanted in the correct color, and it's on its way to me. Fingers crossed...

22 October 2012


The rumors and promises have been swirling for nearly a year, and now it's finally official: Uniqlo has launched its US e-commerce operation. I think this may be a soft opening, as I receive regular emails from them and I haven't heard from them about this yet. But it's not a beta version, it's a fully up-and-running online store.

If you aren't familiar with Uniqlo, it's a Japanese retailer that emphasizes quality and value in basic styles meant for everyday wear.

The selection is quite broad; everything you can find in a Uniqlo store is on the website. Standard shipping is $7 (free on orders of $100) and returns are not free either, but until now the only option was a trip to New York (or the much more recently opened San Francisco and New Jersey stores).

In keeping with the pattern of their recent store openings, there are special prices on certain items, like fleece jackets for $20, men's cashmere sweaters for $80, and colored jeans for $10.

Uniqlo has big plans for expansion in the US over the next five to ten years, and it's a safe assumption that a store in the Boston area will happen at some point, but for now this is the next-best thing.

21 October 2012

This Week in Awesome (10/20/12)

Today is National Nachos Day, and there's still time for you to participate if you act quickly (or are in the Pacific time zone). Meanwhile, back on the internet...

Here's a cool time-lapse of the space shuttle Endeavour's trip through the streets of Los Angeles last weekend. (Los Angeles Times via Devour)

One of these scarves would make a nice gift for a literature lover. (Etsy via Laughing Squid)

T-shirt iconography in movies summed up in one graphic. (BlueCotton via /film)

The Onion spoofs the TED Talks. (If you don't know what that is, ask an intellectual nerd.)

And finally this week, those of you who, like me, are fans of Arrested Development and are eagerly awaiting the show's return (on Netflix) will enjoy this compilation of memorable quotes from the show. If you haven't experienced the show for yourself and are curious, the three seasons that aired on Fox are all available on Netflix streaming. (The Daily What)

20 October 2012

Retro Video Unit (10/19/12)

I've been thinking about posting this one for some time, and I had a couple of conversations this week about Freddie Mercury's legacy so I think it's as good a time as any.

"Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie—if you don't love this song, there may be something wrong with you...

18 October 2012

Update from Orvis

According to the email I received, a replacement shirt is on its way to me, but it will be at least a few more days before I know whether or not it's the one I'm hoping to get.

Update to the update: oops, I guess I posted this too quickly, because I just got a voice mail from Orvis customer service telling me that the order was checked before shipping and they found it was the same incorrect shirt I had already received. They are still trying to find the correct item for me.

17 October 2012

More Made in USA

I just read that work-clothing company Carhartt has a "made in the USA" line featuring some of its most popular pieces. I think this is smart business and I'd like to support it, though I don't need any work clothes at the moment.

I do have one of these jackets in black. I bought it several years ago and I generally wear it on weekends and sometimes to walk the dog, depending on the temperature. I like it because it's simple and rugged, and the styling is plain and classic, not something that will be "out of fashion" in a year or so. Mine was not made in the USA, and at the moment I can't justify spending the money to replace it with an American-made version, but it's nice to know that there are options.

And $75 is a very reasonable amount to spend on such a jacket, especially when you know the purchase supports American workers. A lot of companies are making great clothing in the USA, but not all of them are as accessibly priced.

You can see Carhartt's other made in USA items here (note: if you click that link, the page has a video that plays automatically). Perhaps sales of these products will encourage Carhartt to consider making more items domestically.

(By the way, if you live in the Boston area, there is a Carhartt store in the Legacy Place shopping center in Dedham, which offers an opportunity to check out these items firsthand.)

16 October 2012

Eyewear Out There

Retro-cool and wallet-friendly eyeglass purveyors Warby Parker, where you can get frames with prescription lenses for as little as $95, is traversing the country showing off its wares in a converted school bus.

This "class trip" has rolled into Boston for the week: you'll find the bus parked between Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market from today through Sunday the 21st, and if you stop by you'll be able to try on their offerings. I was downtown this afternoon and went by to have a look. The folks on the bus are very friendly and capable of answering any questions you may have about their products.

If you can't make it, don't worry; you can still order frames to be shipped to you for an in-home try-on.

15 October 2012

The Unknown Shirt

Recently I ordered a shirt from Orvis. I don't buy a lot from them, mainly because I think a lot of their stuff is overpriced. But some things go on sale eventually, it just tends to take longer.

For example, the shirt I ordered was one I'd first seen and liked over a year ago. During that time its price actually increased, from $79 to $89, before landing in the sale section at $59. Then they offered 25% off everything in the sale section, along with free shipping for a certain period of time. My size was still available (another frequent problem with waiting for things to go on sale) so I placed an order.

When the shirt arrived, it was a different pattern than what I'd ordered, but it wasn't any of the other colors or patterns this particular shirt was offered in. In fact it was a pattern I had never seen before, either online or in an Orvis store. I ordered a red plaid shirt, this was a lighter red stripe with some thin white and navy stripes. Very strange.

I called customer service, which has been uniformly terrific in my experience, and the rep promised to have someone find the shirt I want and send it to me, so we'll see how this story ends in a few days.

14 October 2012

This Week in Awesome (10/13/12)

It's chilly outside, and I love it. I guess that makes me a true New Englander, or something?

This one's tough to explain, so just have a look and you'll get it. (FILMography via Esquire Style Blog)

Pinterest is already full of weird things you can buy for your pets, and other stuff. (BuzzFeed FWD)

This is a commercial for The Simpsons in Russia. That may not sound like a big deal, but man it's impressive. (The Daily What)

This week's time-lapse video takes us to San Francisco. Go Giants!* (Laughing Squid via The Daily What)

And finally this week, you may have heard that Pixar is releasing a prequel to Monsters, Inc. next summer called Monsters University. The inevitable marketing onslaught has already begun, but in a much more clever way than you might expect.

*I can say that, right? I mean, the Red Sox aren't in it...

12 October 2012

Boot Talk

Red Wing's Heritage boots have been favored by style bloggers and workwear partisans for several years now. I thought about getting a pair a couple of years ago, and I wrote about certain styles that interested me.

The internet tells me that Red Wings run big (so you should size down) but narrow (so they probably wouldn't be comfortable for me and my widish feet). As it happened, I never got around to trying on any of those boots, but a couple of months later I bought a pair of Wolverine's 1000 Mile Boots, in part because I was able to try them on and found that they have a generously wide fit, even for a shoe labeled as medium width. However, as with Red Wings I did find them to run a half-size large. (This tends to happen with many brands and styles of boots.)

More recently I was thinking about getting a new pair of black lace-up work boots. My Caterpillar Second Shift boots are really comfortable and durable, but they are well worn-in and probably aren't appropriate to wear to work anymore (assuming that I go back to work at some point), and I kind of wanted to find something a little less clunky and a little more refined-looking.

While looking around I discovered a style of Red Wing boots that wasn't available when I was looking two years ago, that had already been discontinued. On Amazon they were priced at about half what they cost new, so I decided to give them a try. Remembering their sizing I ordered a half-size down from what I usually get, and they were plenty long enough, but as I'd suspected they were too narrow to wear comfortably.

I briefly entertained the idea of trying to stretch them, but ultimately decided to return them. But what could I get instead? I'd also come across boots from Frye that looked almost exactly like the Red Wings and which were also made in USA. They were somewhat more expensive, but Amazon was in the process of closing down its shoe site Endless, and to entice customers to shop the shoe section on Amazon they offered a 25% discount for signing up for emails. By using that code I was able to get the Frye boots for only about $15 more than I'd paid for the Red Wings. These are also offered only in medium width, but they are wide enough to be wearable. (From looking at that last link, it appears I managed to just miss a substantial price increase, which is kind of an extra bonus.)

I didn't like the laces that the Frye boots came with, but I was able to find flat textile laces that look just like the ones on the Red Wing boots. Since it's finally fall for real, I started wearing them this week, and they hardly even needed breaking in. By the way, I found that I didn't have to size down with the Frye boots; I got the same size as I wear in dress shoes.

By the way, if you like Red Wing boots and are interested in seeing them and trying them on, they are doing a sort of "trunk show" at Brooks Brothers locations nationwide this weekend, following a similar, smaller-scale event last fall. The information doesn't appear on the BB website, but I learned about it here and you can call your local store to check on it.

My message to Red Wing: please consider offering at least some of your styles (besides the Iron Ranger) in wider widths, because from my personal experience, what you call medium is more like narrow. More widths equals more sales.

SAR's Kitchen Helper: Very Easy Chili

In my household, both of us are quite capable of cooking, but neither of us is really that into it. But since I'm not working at the moment and the Mrs. is spending two days a week at an internship and one day a week on campus, I decided I should endeavor to cook something at least once a week that gives us enough for a couple of meals.

Last week I cooked some chicken breasts, cut them up, made a bag of tortellini, and threw it together with tomatoes, olives, and pesto. I'll probably do this again, but I think I'll vary it by adding some artichoke hearts and using that pre-cooked chicken sausage from Trader Joe's.

This week I decided that since it's turned cooler outside, I would make chili. I prefer to make mine in a slow cooker because it does most of the work for you. It's really easy to make good chili, and the slow cooker makes it pretty much mistake-proof. All you really have to do is cook some meat and open some cans.

Ground beef is the most common choice, but you can use ground turkey if you like (it's leaner, so less of it cooks off). I've used a meat I found at Stop & Shop called "skillet steak" that works really nicely, but I couldn't find it this time around. Once I had amazing chili that had been made using meat from a beautiful roast, but that's expensive and unnecessarily elaborate. Whatever meat you decide to use, you should get around two pounds of it.

Get two cans of diced tomatoes. I prefer the kind without peppers in them, but that's up to you. Also two cans of beans; most people use kidney beans but I like to use one can of kidney and one can of black beans, just for a little variety. Get one small can of tomato sauce; you want something that has not been seasoned to taste like spaghetti sauce. I like to add onion, but some people don't like onions. One large onion should be enough.

I do cheat a little regarding the seasoning: I buy one of those "chili kits" (they're usually near the salsa) because the seasonings are already mixed and you can just use however much makes it taste the way you like. Like I said above, easy and foolproof. These kits also come with cayenne pepper, which I don't use, and flour to thicken the chili, which I do use.

Cook the meat on the stove first in some olive oil, with salt, pepper, and maybe a little oregano and garlic powder. Cut up the onion and throw that in with the meat. While it's cooking, open all the cans. Dump everything in the slow cooker. When the meat is done add that and turn on the cooker, then add the seasoning. Stir everything up really well, then go away. Come back and stir once in a while. Follow the kit's instructions on adding the flour. Let it cook for at least three hours, probably four.

Serve with shredded cheese on top and cold beer.

10 October 2012

Armchair Network Executive

I watch Saturday Night Live more out of habit than any other reason; these days the show is only intermittently funny, but sometimes I want to see a particular musical guest, or see how a guest host does. I was looking forward to this past weekend's show with Daniel Craig as host because I've seen him display a sharp wit in interviews on shows like The Colbert Report, and I suspected he would be game for whatever the writers cooked up.

He was game, but unfortunately the material largely failed him, and there was one sketch that he didn't even appear in. (Why bother even having a guest host, then?) For years SNL has relied far too heavily on sketches that consist of a single joke repeated over and over again, and I suspect this is at least partly due to the challenge of coming up with a show's worth of new material each week. I recognize how difficult it must be to produce this show on such a tight schedule, but I think the overall quality of the show ends up suffering as a result.

The Mrs. is not as much of a TV fan as I am, but after watching this show she made an observation about SNL that I haven't heard anywhere else, but that makes a lot of sense: maybe it's time to stop trying to do the show within the space of one week. Maybe SNL should be on only every other week, which would allow more time to develop sketch ideas and make them as funny as possible.

The network would still end up with about the same number of new shows over the course of the eight-month television season, and NBC could fill in the off weeks with classic episodes that many younger viewers have likely never seen. Just a thought...

09 October 2012

The Name's The Same

Last night the Mrs. and I had dinner in the North End, at Piccola Venezia on Hanover Street. It had been quite some time since we'd last been there, possibly more than a decade. I had bought a Groupon for the place earlier this year and it was nearing expiration, so off we went. We enjoyed our meal, and had plenty left on our plates to bring home, so it's definitely a good value.

One of the interesting things about living in one place for a long time is the perspective you gain from your relationship to it. It's impossible for me to go to Piccola Venezia without thinking about how I first experienced it some 25 years ago, when it was in a much smaller space over on Salem Street. Back then the entrees generally were priced under $10, and a comparably inexpensive plastic pitcher of potent red wine would be served in the traditional (for Italian-Americans) "juice glasses."

After I'd been there a few times, I recall being told by a coworker that there were certain dishes that weren't officially on the menu, but could be had if you knew to ask for them. The whole experience of going to this place somewhat regularly, of being recognized and greeted by the staff when I returned, and of knowing I could order "off the menu" made me feel like an in-the-know Boston insider; there were just as many tourists wandering the streets of the North End back then, but it seemed they would be more likely to choose other restaurants.

Times change, and I'm sure it was a good business move for the restaurant's owners to move to a larger space in a more visible location, but it did mean losing some of what made the original incarnation intimate and special. I'm glad I was around to experience it.

08 October 2012

This Week in Awesome (10/6/12)

Another weekend, another MIA TWiA. Sorry about that...

Want to watch some pretty cool video of the earth from space, with narration? Sure you do. (The Awl via Grist)

Customize your ride with one of these special badges. (Etsy via Jalopnik)

Use these '80s pop lyrics to explain life back then to your kids. (The Morning News via The Hairpin)

And finally this week, in honor of the return of 30 Rock this past Thursday for the start of its seventh and final season (wah), a couple of treats: a collection of some of the show's best jokes in visual form (Vulture) and a gathering of favorite Liz Lemon sayings (click on the elevator buttons for audio). (Complex magazine via Videogum)

05 October 2012

Overheard: Probably Not Medical Use Edition

While stopped at a traffic light, two men were standing on the curb, one talking about his preference in recreational drugs: "Naw, man, I don't like that shit, just give me the regular reefer... unless you're gettin' it from the rich boys."

Retro Video Unit (10/5/12)

Sometimes I pick a song/video to feature here because the song has personal significance, or it's just something I've always thought was particularly good. Sometimes it's because of the video. Sometimes it's both.

In this case it's the song, "Blood And Roses" by The Smithereens, who had a run of several better-than-average albums in the 1980s. Their first album, Especially For You, is filled with good songs, and this is one of the best.

04 October 2012

More Belts

When I started yesterday's post, I was planning to write about belts, but I got off on the tie tangent. So, let's swing back: a well-made, durable belt will last a long time and get better with age. You should not wear the same belt every day for the same reason you shouldn't wear the same pair of shoes every day: you'll wear it out too quickly.

I try to have a number of different belts to choose from so I can wear one that's close in color to whatever shoes I'm wearing that day. (You know you are generally supposed to do this, right?) Also, I don't wear any gold jewelry or gold watches, so I try to avoid belts with brass or gold-colored buckles, which are not always so easy to find, so when I do I tend to stick with them. If you go to a department store like Macy's and look at the belts they sell, they are generally of mediocre quality, and most of them have cheesy-looking brass-colored buckles.

A few months back, I was placing an order with J. Crew and realized that I lacked a dark brown belt, specifically a more casual one that I could wear with jeans. I found a 1.5" belt in the sale section with a roller buckle in a gunmetal finish. This is wider than I normally like, but with jeans it works fine. It had rough, unfinished edges and had a reddish tinge to the color. It appears to be gone from their site, but it looks like this:
At the same time I was in need of a nicer black belt, having worn one out after many years. J. Crew happened to have one of those on sale too, and both were made in USA. The black belt is 1-3/16" wide and the leather has a matte finish, which makes it more suitable to wear with most casual and dressy outfits. This one is still available, and also comes in dark brown and caramel.
You can also find American-made belts at Allen Edmonds. They tend to be more expensive (mainly in the $100 range), but they are in the midst of their annual sale.

03 October 2012


You may not know it, or even have thought about it, but J. Crew has its belts and ties manufactured domestically. Their ties are nice enough, but each year they have followed the prevailing trend and gotten a little narrower. I bought one three or four years back that is 3" wide, and if you look at their site now you'll see that the standard width is 2.5".

That can be all right if you are of smaller stature (in which case, your jacket lapels should be proportionally narrower as well, to help lengthen your appearance vertically), but if you're 5' 8" or taller, or beyond your early thirties, you should probably be wearing ties that are proportionally wider and less trendy. Otherwise you'll run the risk of looking like you bought dress clothing when you first got out of high school or college and haven't bothered to update any of it.

Personally I prefer my ties to be 3.5" wide, which used to be something of a standard. The narrowing and widening trend of ties is annoying, especially if you've found a width that you like. I hadn't noticed personally, but I was recently informed that Brooks Brothers, in its ongoing quest to lure younger customers, has narrowed its standard tie width to 3.25", and they also offer "slim" ties that are almost as narrow as those from J. Crew.

You can still find 3.5" ties without too much effort (check stores like Nordstrom or Lord & Taylor, and websites like The Tie Bar or Mountain & Sackett), but it's disappointing when a company as traditional as Brooks feels the need to cave in to a trend that will obviously be played out in a few more seasons. I do think that with more casual fabrics, like summer ties in cotton madras, you can go a little narrower, but when I wore that 3" J. Crew tie a while back, it didn't look right on me.

02 October 2012

Welcome to October

I had planned to post yesterday, but a combination of an afternoon of errands and an evening of sinus discomfort quashed that. When the weather changes it often affects pressure inside my head, and seasonal allergies contribute as well.

Like APB, October is my favorite month too. I thought we had shaken off the last remains of summer weather, and I had started to return to dressing in jeans and long-sleeve shirts, but at the moment it's 72 degrees and I just walked the dog in shorts and a T-shirt. One significant difference, though, is the humidity, or rather the lack of it, making days like today much more pleasant.

It looks like this pattern will be around for the remainder of this week, with more seasonally typical temperatures moving back in over the weekend, just in time for us to see some out-of-town visitors.

30 September 2012

This Week in Awesome (9/29/12)

Oops, I forgot something... this:

There's a bit of a music theme this week, starting with this film from the 1950s showing how vinyl records are produced. (Turn the Record Over via BuzzFeed)

Two people are using a rudimentary field-recording technique to document contemporary folk music. (The 78 Project via The Awl)

Did you ever think about what early designs for the space shuttle may have looked like? (io9)

This week's bit of infrastructure obsession: maps. (Transit Maps)

And finally this week (and circling back to music), Aimee Mann has a new album, Charmer, and she's made a couple of fun and interesting videos for songs from it. The first, for the title track, features a robot version of Aimee played by someone you'll probably recognize. The second, for the song "Labrador," has Jon Hamm playing a fictitious version of the video's actual director, but is more notable because it's a shot-for-shot recreation of the video for Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry," which will be familiar to anyone who watched MTV during the 1980s. (Stereogum)

29 September 2012


After last night's musings on aging and the passage of time, I guess it's only appropriate that it's time to make note of another anniversary: it was six years ago today that I started this... thing.

I started doing this without any firm conception of what I wanted it to be: I mainly wanted to encourage myself to write more regularly and frequently, so by those parameters I have far exceeded any expectations of my own. It's been fun to have it grow and evolve right in front of me, so to speak, and there is also a distinct sort of pleasure that comes from having ideas arrive in my brain, or at least a vague feeling of encouragement from these indications that my brain does in fact still work as it's supposed to, sometimes.

Blogging has also led to some new acquaintances, and I appreciate everyone that visits to read and comment.

Regularly scheduled programming (TWiA) will return later tonight...

28 September 2012

I Don't Wanna Rock As Much Anymore, and Preferably While Sitting Down When I Do

Last week I went to the Paradise club to see the band Stars, and it got me thinking about a number of things.

I've been to dozens of shows at the Paradise over the years, possibly more than a hundred, but as I walked in I realized that it had been at least three years since I'd last been there. The Mrs. is not much of a live music fan, and her tastes remain about where they were when she was in high school and college; even the bands that she loved then aren't enough of an enticement to her. She also tends to go to sleep fairly early, which doesn't work well for seeing bands at clubs.

So when a band I want to see comes around, I either find a friend to go along or go alone. And even though music is a highly personal experience, I don't enjoy going alone, which makes me less likely to want to go in the future.

As I watched one of the opening bands last Friday I thought about how much I used to enjoy going to see bands play live, and how it isn't really as meaningful to me anymore. I'm approaching 50, and having to stand on a concrete floor for two or three hours surrounded by people who weren't even born when I saw the Pixies play in the same club (as the opening act for Throwing Muses) definitely takes some of the fun out of the equation.

At this point I definitely prefer shows with seating, but the possibility of that depends on the band and the venue. Between bands I went up to the balcony and found a spot to sit down for a while, but when Stars came on I had to get up again, or else I would have been able to hear the band but not see them, and then I might as well have stayed home, which is sort of what I was thinking by that point anyway.

I also don't get all the kids who are either filming the show or texting their friends. If you're doing that stuff, you can't be enjoying the performance in the moment. Sure, I could film a show and watch the video later, but I would rather use my memory to recall the experience, and I worry that this type of specific experiential memory is something that young people aren't going to have, or know how to have.

Also, you may recall that I don't drive, and Boston's early-to-bed transit system means getting home from a show probably involves a cab ride; last week the cab home cost me $25, after having paid $25 for the show ticket. Imagine if I lived further away from the city.

As it is now I only go to see a handful of shows a year, but going forward it's probably going to be fewer. Age is relative, or just a number, but it's still a reality that must be faced. Fun ain't what it used to be.

27 September 2012


Last Saturday was the wedding after-party I mentioned earlier this month, for which I bought the linen jacket. It worked out quite well; the evening was on the warmer side, but not uncomfortably so; inside the bar I was able to keep the jacket on for two hours and not feel overheated at all.

An event like this is a perfect opportunity to get a little creative with an outfit, and the jacket was a blank canvas asking to be surrounded by color. A pocket square was just what I needed for that extra little touch.
I cheated a little; I purchased this cloth with a square in mind, but I have not yet gotten around to finishing the edges, so they stayed hidden inside the pocket.

(As usual with my camera, the color is a bit off; the actual fabric ground is a bit more red than it appears here.)

26 September 2012


I updated my iPhone to the latest operating system last week. I don't really have any opinion one way or the other about the Maps app, except that when using the traffic overlay it only shows problem areas, whereas Google's map showed traffic flow as green, yellow, or red, which is easier to take in at a glance. On the other hand, the new map app does seem to scroll and zoom in and out much faster, which is frequently more important when trying to obtain information in a moving vehicle.

But Apple has made other changes that you might not notice immediately. I don't make a lot of phone calls these days, so it wasn't until a few days later that I went into the phone function and found that Apple had made a significant change to the appearance of the dial pad. The number pad has been reversed from white digits on black keys to black digits on white keys. Not only is this ugly, it's also harder for me to read. There just isn't as much contrast.

Obviously this isn't anything crucial, but I haven't seen it mentioned in any reviews of iOS 6. This might be one of those things that you can change if you are willing to "jailbreak" your phone, but I don't feel confident enough to undertake such an endeavor.