30 April 2012

The Juror Is Out

Well, that was pretty painless. I got to the courthouse in Malden about half an hour early, and by 8:30 (the time we were supposed to report by) there were maybe eighteen people in the jury pool room. I was expecting a larger crowd, but the district court does things differently: juries there have only seven members (one is chosen as the alternate after the case has been presented). In Massachusetts, those called for jury duty serve for one day or one trial.

We were told there were a number of cases pending, but the judge wanted to first see how many might be resolved without trials. So we waited. I'd forgotten to bring a book, so after finishing the paper and doing the crossword, I was forced to endure a television playing talk shows like Dr. Oz and Wendy Williams.

Around noon, the judge came back to tell us that, of ten cases, all but two had been adjudicated, and the other two were being continued, so we were released. I didn't speak with any of the other jurors, but it was clear from his remarks to us that the judge took his work seriously and also that he enjoyed it, which is heartening.

One other observation: after arriving I had to sit in the lobby until it was time for us to go upstairs. While there, within the space of 60 seconds, two different people entered and said they were reporting to perform their community service. Both were told that only happens on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and both were obviously unaware of this fact. I don't know what they did to be there, but you'd think they would have been told which day to report.

29 April 2012

Monday's Obligation

By the way, tomorrow (Monday) is my rescheduled jury duty date. I didn't want to have to go right after getting back from visiting New York, but the alternative was to wait until July, and honestly I'd rather get it out of the way.

Consequently I don't know whether or when I'll be free tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be sent home after a couple of hours, but the timing of this week's Mad Men writeup may be affected.

Trash Lesson

I'm back home from my trip, and Sunday night means I have to put out the trash. There is frequently a lot of miscellaneous trash in front of our house. I'm not exactly sure where it all comes from, but we live on a fairly busy street, and I guess that filthy, ill-mannered cretins toss things out of their cars while driving through the area, ending up in the gutter between parked cars, in the mulch beds on either side of our front steps, etc.

This evening I rolled the container out the the curb, then picked up a few items that were scattered nearby. One of them was a small plastic bottle that said "Sutter Home." I had no idea shitty wine came in nip-size.

28 April 2012

Update Update

Sorry for the absence of posts the past few days. I've been in New York, and while my iPhone's onscreen keypad is fine for text messages and occasional emails, it's somewhat less than useful for longer-form typing. Alsp, I have to be honest: blogging hasn't been foremost in my mind during this time. It's been a very interesting and enjoyable trip, so I will definitely have material for when I get back.

25 April 2012

Bitchin' Camaro

This vintage machine (it's a 1968) appeared last week in the driveway of a neighbor's house. I spotted it while walking the dog, and coincidentally I noticed a sign offering guitar lessons appeared at the front of the house around the same time.

24 April 2012

Live Wishes

This Thursday, NBC's 30 Rock is doing another live episode (the first one aired in October 2010). The live episodes are presented in Studio 8H, the home of Saturday Night Live. Since I'm arriving in New York on Thursday, I was hoping there was some miniscule chance I could get to see the live show.

NBC did run a contest to attend the dress rehearsal, so of course I entered, but that's not happening. I couldn't find any information about how to get in the audience for the live 30 Rock. If it involves waiting in a line starting at a certain time, I could do that, though with my limited time in the city there are plenty of other things I could be doing with that time.

Oh well, there's always next year...

(If anyone who happens to be reading has connections at NBC and can hook me up, please let me know.)

23 April 2012

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 6: "Far Away Places"

[Standard disclaimer: I have avoided reading any other recaps, writeups, or other commentary on this episode before writing this, so if I express something similar to thoughts you've read elsewhere, it's entirely a coincidence. If you have not watched the episode, assume there are spoilers ahead and act accordingly.]

This was another excellent episode, focusing on Peggy, Roger, and Don, and their relationships with their significant others. The places of the title were both literal and metaphorical journeys. I liked the structure of the episode: each story unspooled, then we rewound and went off onto the next one.

This week it was Peggy's turn to assume Don's role, as his sudden exit from the Heinz presentation left her in charge, and unable to convince the Heinz executive to commit to a campaign. Told by Pete that she's off the account, in frustration she left the office in the middle of the day to go to a movie, as Don used to do. Her encounter in the theater with the stranger was also somewhat Don-like.

Later, back at the office, Michael Ginsberg told Peggy he was sent to Earth from Mars. At first I thought this was a residual effect of the joint she smoked in the movie theater, but it seems we are meant to understand that either he truly believes this, or at the very least that he has created an elaborate metaphor for the feelings of disconnection from the world he experiences as a result of the circumstances of his birth.

Roger and Jane took LSD with a group of intellectuals including Jane's psychiatrist. We witnessed the event from Roger's point of view, which led to some good gags: the orchestral bottle of whiskey vodka, the quickly-burning cigarette, Don in the mirror telling Roger he was okay, the five-dollar bill with Bert Cooper's face, and Roger believing he's watching the 1919 World Series while in his bathtub. It didn't really come as a surprise that their marriage is over; does this mean Roger will try to rekindle a romance with Joan?

Don and Megan didn't take any drugs, unless you count the orange sherbet. But their drive to a Howard Johnson's in upstate New York led to an argument about the parameters of their relationship, when they are working and when they aren't. I was disappointed to see that Don couldn't extract himself from his anger long enough to have a serious conversation about Megan's feelings. Her comment about his mother was wrong, but him leaving her behind was much worse. Don's confused search for Megan was sort of like a bad drug trip.

And remember, the trip was originally Roger's idea; I think he was suggesting it as a way to get out of going to the dinner party with Jane. As soon as Don proposed bringing Megan and Jane, Roger lost interest.

PS: Don's Omega watch: awesome.

* * *

By the way, after I speculated about the extent of Don's dream in episode 4, I came across this piece on Slate that explains that the whole thing was a dream, and why.

21 April 2012

This Week in Awesome (4/21/12)

Sorry, Blogger: the new interface is horrible. Elsewhere...

This website for a cool book about maps is full of... surprise! cool maps. (The Hairpin)

Sort of related: works of art made from maps. (Mental Floss via The Daily What)

Packaging of everyday items used to be so much cooler. Dieline via Esquire Style Blog)

Charting the history of James Bond's vehicles. (Autoblog)

The lineup for next year's Coachella festival has already been announced. (Popdust via This Fits)

And finally this week, we know everything is better in slow motion (I've linked to this before, but it deserves a repeat), so who doesn't love watching stuff get destroyed in slow motion? (Devour via Gawker)

20 April 2012

Retro Video Unit (4/20/12)

The idea for this one just came to me out of nowhere, and I was happy to find the original music video.

Yaz (known as Yazoo in the UK, forced to change it here because another US band was already using Yazoo at the time) was one of the earliest techno groups to get airplay and notoriety, following other British groups like Human League and Depeche Mode. In fact, Vince Clarke had been a founding member of Depeche Mode before starting Yaz with Alison Moyet.

They only released two albums, but ended up being far more influential years down the road. Here's the very excellent "Situation."

Vintage New

I've liked pink oxford cloth shirts since I was in high school. Back then I used to wear mine with a vintage charcoal gray suit jacket (it came from my father's 1960 honeymoon suit), Levi's corduroy jeans, and either a black tie with small, closely spaced white dots or a gray plaid wool tie.

A couple of months ago I was casually looking around for a new pink shirt, to replace one I'd gotten about ten years ago for $10 at a Bass outlet store. That one was starting to show its age, though I plan on keeping it for non-work wear, since it's become ridiculously soft from all the washing and wearing.

I hoped to find a shirt with a button on the back of the collar; it's one of those details that refers back to the initial popularity of button-down collar oxford shirts in the 1950s. Over time, manufacturers dropped small extras like this to save a few cents per shirt, but such details are showing up again.

I would have liked to purchase an American made shirt from Gitman Bros., but those are currently going for $165, not exactly prudent spending for someone about to be without a job. Even a Gant shirt (which isn't made in America) would be about $100. Sometimes we must compromise.

I happened across a blogger who recommended Rugby's oxfords. I had never paid a shred of attention to the Rugby line, because I assumed it was simply Ralph Lauren's attempt to compete with the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch and they wouldn't have anything I would like, or that would fit.

The Rugby oxfords were on sale online for $30, and were refreshingly devoid of exterior branding. (They do have a little tag on the side seam near the tail that's easily removed, and a very narrow strip of necktie-stripe fabric inside the collar.) Since I wasn't sure how they would fit, I ordered both large and extra large.

In brands like J. Crew I need to wear extra large for the shirt to fit me in the chest and shoulders, but the sleeves are always a little long, so I assumed the Rugby would be the same. As it turned out, the large was just big enough to fit me in the chest. It's probably the slimmest-fitting shirt I have that doesn't pull between the buttons, and the sleeves are just the right length.
Oxford cloth is supposed to be fairly sturdy, but some shirts are made of thin, cheap-feeling fabric. Not this one—it's substantial, but also soft. It has the desired back collar button, and what is sometimes called a spade or chevron pocket—the bottom of the pocket is a V shape, and the small flap of extra fabric that is folded over at the top mimics the V shape. It's another detail that makes a shirt like this a little more complex and expensive to make than a pocket with straight lines, but I think it looks nicer.
If you're interested in one of these shirts, they happen to still be available for $30, in white and blue as well as the pink, but unfortunately only XL remains in each color. If you happen to live near a Rugby store you could try checking with them to see if they might still have any, or maybe even calling. But remember: the fit is on the slimmer side.

19 April 2012

Travel Plans

There are nice things about not working regularly: not having to get up early every day, not dealing with a commute twice a day, having free time for other interests and pursuits.

Next week I'll be heading back to New York. This trip is structured around a play I'm seeing. I started planning this back in January, before I knew I would be getting laid off, and since I'd already bought the theater ticket, which is nonrefundable, I decided to proceed.

Actually, planning for this trip started back in November, when I learned that this particular play would be performed again. It's being presented at the Public Theater by a company called Elevator Repair Service. The play is called Gatz, and the best description I can offer is that it is a performance of the entire novel The Great Gatsby. Every word in the book is spoken onstage over the course of about six and a half hours (plus two intermissions and a dinner break!).

I first learned about this show over two years ago, when ERS was performing it at the American Repretory Theater in Cambridge. I didn't find out about it until the final week of the run, and there were no tickets available anyway. When the Mrs. and I were in New York in November of 2010, they happened to be performing it at the Public Theater, but by that point the entire run was sold out, and the Mrs. had no interest in seeing it regardless.

Her lack of interest (perfectly understandable—not everyone is a fan of the book, and not everyone wants to sit in a theater for that long), along with the demands of her school work, led me to decide to make this trip solo. Others think I'm a bit nuts for wanting to see this show, but The Great Gatsby is one of the most important works of literature of the 20th century, and I've always had a deep affection for it. This is a very unusual performance, so when the opportunity to see it arose again, with time for me to plan for it, I had to do it.

(The movie version of the book that's coming out this Christmas, directed by Baz Luhrman and shot in 3-D, is probably going to be a disaster—I mean, Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, really?—but I'll have to see it too. The 1974 version wasn't good either, but at least casting Robert Redford as Gatsby made some sense.)

Of course, there's plenty else to amuse me in New York, including a couple of museum exhibits and (obviously) some shopping. I had a bit more trouble than usual getting a hotel room at a decent rate, probably due in some part to the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs through next weekend. When I picked the date to see the play I wasn't aware the festival would be going on, or I would have chosen a different weekend. These things can't always be helped, but I managed to get a reservation at a hotel that is convenient to the theater and a subway station. More to come...

18 April 2012

TV Vs. Reality

Some of you may be familiar (hi Mom!) with the CBS show Criminal Minds, about the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, which profiles serial killers. I came across this bit of info yesterday on The Hairpin, and it's something I have thought about while watching the show:

"In the entire history of the United States there have been 183 identified serial killers and 25 unidentified. Meanwhile, the Criminal Minds team has managed to identify and/or catch more than 150 of them in just seven years."

17 April 2012

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 5: "Signal 30"

[Standard disclaimer: I have avoided reading any other recaps, writeups, or other commentary on this episode before writing this, so if I express something similar to thoughts you've read elsewhere, it's entirely a coincidence. If you have not watched the episode, assume there are spoilers ahead and act accordingly.]

Don't mess with Lane, huh? The outcome of the little bout in the conference room was never in doubt to me, but there was a lot of other good stuff leading up to it.

This was John Slattery's third time directing an episode, and I thought he did a very nice job, particularly with things like scene transitions, and I really liked the way light and shadow were used in the scene where Pete and Jenny are talking in front of the trophy case.

Kind of a reversal going on with Don and Pete, referenced through the episode. Pete's out in the suburbs with his house and family, while Don now prefers city life. Pete indulges himself at the brothel the way Don surely would have not very long ago while Don waits at the bar, and while he tries to tell Pete he isn't judging him for his behavior because he's done it himself, it still felt like he was.

It was good to see the old Roger, not the person buying favors but the person who's really good at his job, and who also generously offered advice to Lane (while Pete claimed he was "far too busy" to help Lane). I was rooting for Lane to land the Jaguar account, even while I suspected something would happen to derail it. It reminded me of when Joan was reading scripts for Harry in season 2's "A Night to Remember" and I wanted her to get promoted, while knowing she probably wouldn't.

And that led to Lane kissing Joan. I'd been wondering about a mutual attraction between the two of them for a while. Joan knew how he felt because she'd been in a similar situation, so she allowed him that one moment of inappropriate behavior, then got up and opened the door. Joan often communicates so much without saying a word.

And then there's Ken. I wouldn't have expected him to be writing science fiction stories, but I think that having that pursuit outside of work perhaps makes him the most balanced and stable of any of the men working at SCDP, and Roger isn't going to be able to force Ken to put that aside. And Ken and Peggy have a pact regarding employment elsewhere, which probably came about when the agency was struggling. Not the two most likely individuals to form such an alliance, but that sort of thing is common in advertising.

"Signal 30" is the name of the driver's-ed film, which in turn was derived from an old radio code used by law-enforcement agencies to indicate a death. At the time Pete was watching it, it was about seven years old, but it went on to be used in driver training classes for decades. If you are curious, you can watch the movie here.

One last thing: when Don said, "Let's make a baby" to Megan, she replied, "That's impossible." She was somewhat drunk, but still—perhaps she can't have children for some reason, and hasn't shared this with Don?

15 April 2012

This Week in Awesome (4/14/12)

A day late, but no less enjoyable...

Clever uses for Donald Trump neckties. (Vanity Fair via The Silentist)

Fake Massachusetts towns (mostly). (McSweeney's via Universal Hub)

A compendium of stuff that was made wrong. (Kempt)

Self-portraits using found items. (Blogfood)

And finally this week, Jimmy Fallon's take on Downton Abbey. (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon via Videogum)

14 April 2012


So much for that. Yesterday was more of a running-around day, so I wasn't even at home much. Things should get more regular again next week.

13 April 2012


Sorry for my absence... I unexpectedly acquired a freelance project, and I've been kind of focused on that lately. Today I'm busy with other things, but I should be able to post something again later today.

10 April 2012

Online Streaming, Now with More Ads

By the way, Comcast cable subscribers can watch Mad Men (and a bunch of other shows) online. I suspect this is true for customers of other cable companies too. One interesting thing is that the online episodes air with commercials, which seems a bit, oh, I don't know, money-grubbing, but then again this is the cable industry we're talking about.

I watched this week's episode, which I had recorded on my TiVo, then watched it again a few hours later online, and noticed that it contained all the same ads, in the exact order, as what I had recorded. And you can't skip over them. Still, if you have cable but don't have a DVR, it's another option for viewing.

09 April 2012

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 4: "Mystery Date"

First, sorry about messing up with last week's episode. I'd forgotten that I was going out Sunday night and wouldn't be able to watch the episode, and the rest of the week was a period of adjustment to not having a schedule or routine. I did like the contrasts between Betty and Megan, I still believe Betty will never be happy, and I wonder what effect her problems will end up having on the kids, especially Sally. By the way, the Rolling Stones did in fact play at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, NY on July 2, 1966.

But that was last week, and we have another episode to deal with.

[Let's remember my standard disclaimer: I have avoided reading any other recaps, writeups, or other commentary on this episode before writing this, so if I express something similar to thoughts you've read elsewhere, it's entirely a coincidence. If you have not watched the episode, assume there are spoilers ahead and act accordingly.]

This was a gritty and sometimes grim episode. Don had hallucinations, shitsack Greg came home on leave to tell Joan he'd volunteered to go back to Vietnam for another year, Sally got stuck with an adult who is worse at parenting than her own mother, Peggy questioned her choices, Roger bought another person's favor, and it was all set against the backdrop of a hunt for a serial killer.

Don's fever dreams confused me a bit. Did Andrea really come to the apartment that first time? Would she really be able to find out where he lived so quickly? I suspect not, which made me think he dreamed the whole thing. Talk about psychosexual issues, though.

Greg is happier in the Army than at home with Joan and the new baby, I guess because he feels needed and respected there. As difficult as it will be for Joan, she's better off without him. Great work by Christina Hendricks in this one.

Poor Sally. From her too-lenient mother to her too-strict step-grandmother, adults fail her. And now grandma Pauline gave her half a Seconal. Grandma said watching the sun set from your bedroom window is "the saddest thing in the world." I think having her for a grandma would be the saddest thing in the world. At least Don told Sally that talking to her made him feel better.

The scene between Peggy and Roger was great too. "The work is ten dollars, the lie is extra."

07 April 2012

This Week in Awesome (4/7/12)

I'm going to borrow this from Sandra: Happy Eastover, everyone. Now, we have some other business...

I found this transportation-related blog some time ago, but this week was directed back there for this cool graphic showing the evolution of the MBTA system, represented in the current graphic style of the T's maps. (Vanshnookenraggen via Universal Hub)

I followed a link to the website for The Atlantic and found a whole bunch of interesting stuff. First, a couple of graphs: this one illustrates the change in the number of people reading books over the past 60 years or so, and this one charts the proliferation of technology into people's lives over the past century.

I also found this rather intriguing piece about engagement rings. (The Atlantic via The Hairpin)

This video dissection and remixing of the courtyard views in Rear Window is really neat. (Jeff Desom via The Atlantic)

And finally this week, for something in a totally different vein, I dare you not to laugh at this: Text From Dog. (BuzzFeed)

06 April 2012

Retro Video Unit (4/6/12)

Today's selection is inspired by memories of a concert I attended in the spring of 1983 at the old Walter Brown Arena at BU. The headlining band was The English Beat, touring in support of their album from the previous year, Special Beat Service, which turned out to be their last.

At the time they were reasonably popular (helped by this video's frequent play on MTV) but still firmly "alternative," so people like me who were fans of non-mainstream music could still feel comfortable liking them.

By the way, the opening band at that concert was R.E.M. Their debut full-length album Murmur had just been released, and they were on the same label as The English Beat. I feel very lucky to have seen them so early in their career, so let's have a bonus video tonight, shall we? I usually like to go with the official version, but I found a clip of R.E.M.'s first television appearance, on Late Night With David Letterman from October of 1983, making it a dually significant cultural artifact.

05 April 2012

American-Made Electronics

I feel that it's important to buy American-made products when it's possible and sensible. A lot of it has to do with how much you are willing to pay, or whether or not you are willing to expend the effort to find an item for less from an alternative source, like buying a pair of American-made shoes on eBay.

But there are some types of products for which buying American is impossible, or nearly so. Have you looked at irons lately? (I'll be getting to that one soon.) Or electronics? I'm not saying that the available products aren't well-made, but it would be nice to purchase something that you know is supporting American jobs.

For Christmas I got a pair of headphones from the Mrs. I'd been using a pair of basic earbuds to listen to music at work, and decided that I wanted an upgrade. I already knew what I wanted, so it was easy to tell her. For years I've wanted a pair of Grado headphones, which are made in Brooklyn by a company that's been in business and run by the same family for over half a century. Grado's headphones are consistently rated among the best available. They also make cartridges for phonographs.

My headphones came from Crutchfield, an electronics dealer that has a deserved reputation for offering quality products and outstanding service. I bought my plasma TV from them as well. The headphones, which are pretty much the least expensive Grado model available, are nonetheless amazing. The sound they product is incredibly detailed and rich, but it's also very natural, a quality that is often lacking from headphones and earbuds.

These are over-the-head "cans" with foam cushions and a thick cord. I don't know how I would feel about using them with an iPod or other portable, but you certainly could if you wanted to. (Actually, Grado does offer earbuds and a behind-the-head headset that are intended for use with portable music devices, though those items are manufactured for them overseas.)

Recently I heard about another American-made electronics product, a Kickstarter project to fund an iPhone dock made out of a solid block of aluminum. The company is called Elevation Lab and their project was successful; the docks are in production right now, and will start shipping later this month. I decided to contribute to the project so I could get one of the docks at the promotional price, but you can still pre-order one through their website.

04 April 2012

Wrist Assist

I came across this picture in Esquire:
Can someone please talk to the senator about that horrible piece of plastic on his wrist? If you're going to wear a watch, at least be dignified about it. That thing is great for your morning jogs, not so great for business on the Senate floor in a suit.

Status: ?

I didn't expect to be more busy while not working... more later today, hopefully.

02 April 2012


I should have realized this sooner, but I'm not going to get to my planned Mad Men writeup today, since I was out last night and have not seen the episode yet.