30 June 2013

This Week in Awesome (6/29/13)

I feel some sort of Netflix binge-watching marathon coming on...

Rising UK media entity The Guardian has a very clever blog highlighting the differences between the King's English and American English. (The Hairpin)

Salon responded to the conclusion of Mad Men's season by speculating about possible elements of the show's (presumably) final season, but I'm not sure how seriously you should consider any of these predictions. (TV Tattle)

This week's time-lapse: Hawaiian volcanoes. (Vimeo)

An artist imagines what our night sky would look like if the other planets in our solar system were as close as the moon. (The Atlantic via The Hairpin)

Of interest to only a very small number of people: photos of cars shown during the Bulger trial. (Clunker Nation via Universal Hub)

And finally this week, imaginary children's books based on characters from one of my favorite TV shows, Parks and Recreation. (Flavorwire)

29 June 2013

Retro Video Unit (6/28/13)

Sometimes a really good song got stuck with a mediocre video, like this one, "Let Me Go" by Heaven 17:

27 June 2013

Grooming Garage: Other Blades to Try

I haven't done one of these in a while, but a couple of months ago I became aware of two new companies offering razor products, and I'm always happy to see people willing to fight the hegemony of Gillette, so I ordered both of them for test-shaving purposes.

When I try something new like this I can't offer a legitimate opinion after only one use, so I try to use a new razor for a number of shaves, at least four or five. That gives me an idea of what sort of performance I might expect with regular use, and lets me see how long the blades remain sharp.

I heard about 800Razors from the blog United Style. They offer both 3-blade and 5-blade models, and their products are made in the USA. I preferred the styling and color scheme of their 5-blade razor, but I've found that 4- or 5-blade razors don't give me any benefit beyond a 3-blade, so I ordered their 3-blade model, which came with 5 cartridges for $10. (You get more cartridges for your money with the 3-blade model, too.)

The handle has nice contours and rubberized grip points, so it's easy to hold and feels comfortable in the hand. I didn't expect the shaves to be as good as the Schick Xtreme3 razor I've been using for several years, but I have found the 800Razors model to give an equivalent shave. I'm very satisfied and probably will continue to use it. I don't know if the 5-blade model is as good, but I would be inclined to think so. (They have also just introduced a women's 5-blade razor.)

Shipping is free, and if for any reason you aren't satisfied they will give you a refund. One other nice thing: the more replacement cartridges you buy at one time, the better the per-cartridge price.

The other company, Harry's, was all over the men's style websites when they launched their products a few months back. (I guess they have a better PR person than 800Razors.) I was immediately drawn to the design of the handle with its smooth, clean lines—just the sort of razor I might design myself, I thought.

The Harry's razor comes with one 5-blade cartridge (the only option) for $10, or for $15 (all orders ship free) you get 3 cartridges and a tube of their shaving cream, so I ordered that combo. The handle is available in a choice of four colors: deep blue, ivory, olive, or orange, which is the one I chose. There's also an aluminum version for $10 more. As with 800Razors, Harry's offers better pricing for buying larger quantities of replacement cartridges.

The set arrived in a dark blue box with the various items set into cutouts inside. It was very impressive looking, and the razor is truly a pleasure to hold. I thought I was really onto something... and then I shaved. It was one of the worst shaves I'd had in years. The shaving cream stung my face, so I decided next time I'd use the razor with my regular shaving cream. It didn't matter; I had to switch razors after a couple of minutes. The blades just wouldn't glide over my skin the way other razor blades do.

I really wanted to like the Harry's products, because it's obvious a great deal of thought has gone into their design and construction, and I feel bad saying somewhat unflattering things about them here, but my experience with them was very disappointing. It's entirely possible that my skin is to blame and that others are perfectly happy using their Harry's shaving cream and razors. As they say, your mileage may vary.

26 June 2013

Pastel Puzzlement

I'm constantly fascinated by the things people choose to wear. I don't usually take pictures of them, but I saw this guy while waiting for the T recently, and I was so confused that I surreptitiously snapped this quick shot (I did, however, make the effort to crop his face from the image):
Maybe he just really likes sherbet?

24 June 2013

Steamy Ride

Hands up if you were unaware that the T still has buses without air conditioning.

22 June 2013

This Week in Awesome (6/22/13)

We're just about at overflow capacity this week; strange how some weeks I find almost nothing of interest, and other times it's like this...

Jimmy Kimmel wraps up The Baby Bachelor.

The resting place for Manhattan's no-longer-needed pay phones has been located. (BuzzFeed)

Here's another exercise in applying the periodic table framework to completely unrelated material. (Laughing Squid)

This week's time-lapse: construction of a new skyscraper in London. (Vimeo)

Somewhat related: I have a thing for infrastructure—roads, bridges and tunnels, buildings, anything that comprises the built environment. You may have heard that New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority is constructing a new subway line under Manhattan's east side, the first such work to take place in eight decades. Regardless of the location, new subway construction is fairly rare in any city, so the opportunity to see these amazing pictures of the progress is rare and special. (MTA via Jalopnik; if you liked this, the MTA's flickr page has much more.)

NBC's Hannibal turned out to be the best new show of this year (I had previously labeled FX's The Americans as such, but Hannibal hadn't premiered yet), partly by subverting expectations of just what sort of show it was going to be (sorry, Mom). This excellent article by Todd VanDerWerff explores how this was accomplished, and why it matters. (The A.V. Club)

And finally this week, to mark the end of Mad Men's sixth season, a couple of related bits: first, a silly tumblr (HitFix); second, many viewers probably recognized the song used over last week's closing credits as "Porpoise Song" by The Monkees, from their 1968 movie Head. But take a look at the opening of the movie where the song is used, and see if it reminds you of anything. (Thanks to Aaron at Unlikely Words for pointing this out in his weekly MM recap)

20 June 2013

Fingertip Tip

I don't have many helpful tips, but when I do I like to share them...

When I am getting dressed up and I need to tie a tie, I tend to have trouble with the fabric catching on the skin around my cuticles and fingernails, especially in cold weather. This is probably because I have a tendency to gnaw on them, so the edges are typically uneven.

Somehow it occurred to me to put a little moisturizer on my fingers. I only need a small amount, and if you have a pump-top bottle it's more convenient. Also, this works better if it's not super-thick. Just rub it into your fingertips, and around the cuticles if necessary. Wait a minute or so for the moisturizer to be absorbed, so your fingers aren't slick or greasy, then tie the tie.

19 June 2013

All Kinds of Fans

Nice to see the Museum of Fine Arts has been having some fun with the Stanley Cup finals.

An Open Approach

I've been following Everlane, a small clothing company based in California, since they started up a couple of years ago. They set out to make quality items at fair prices, and to be as transparent about their manufacturing as possible, meaning they disclose information about the factories used by their suppliers, they visit and maintain relationships, monitor working conditions, etc. They also reveal the cost structures of the items they sell, which is pretty much unheard of in the fashion industry.

I decided it was time to sample the product, and they recently added several new color choices to their T-shirt line, so I ordered three from them. Their Ts are manufactured in Los Angeles, just like American Apparel. The fabric is just as nice, and Everlane's T-shirts sell for $3 less, in part because they only sell direct so they don't have AA's cost burden of a worldwide chain of retail stores.

The fabric is as soft as you could ask for and the construction is first-rate. I have one minor quibble with the Everlane Ts: the neck isn't cut quite as high as I prefer, and since its fabrication is softer it tends to droop a tiny bit. I might try going one size smaller to see if that helps.

So, an Everlane T-shirt that's made in the USA costs $15, and if you buy two or more items the shipping is free. How does that compare to what other stores sell? Target sells solid Ts for $8, Old Navy's are $10 (currently on sale for $6), and Gap's are $17 (currently $12.50 each if you buy two or more). J. Crew's men's Ts are regularly $25, and women's are $25-30 depending on style and fabric (they do go on sale, but typically only "select colors"). None of those are made in the USA. Wouldn't you like to buy a garment that you know supports American workers, and is also a top-quality product?

By the way, Everlane sells more than just T-shirts. They have oxford-cloth button-front shirts; cashmere sweaters for men and women; a collection of bags including weekenders, totes, and backpacks; a woman's sandal; and other accessories like bags and scarves. Some of these items are made in the USA and others are not, but Everlane provides full information about where and how each item is made. This is a company you'll want to keep an eye on.

18 June 2013

Burrito Sandwich? YES.

The Mrs. and I have been faithful patrons of Anna's Taqueria for as long as they've been open (or at least open on the north side of the Charles). To our taste buds they make the best burritos around.

When we want them, we usually drive to Davis Square, which takes about 15-20 minutes each way from our house, depending on traffic. It wasn't so bad when we lived in Somerville, but after moving to Medford seven years ago it became more of a pain. For years Anna's seemed to be opening new locations all over greater Boston, and I kept hoping they would come to Medford Square.

Last spring we saw signs for a Mexican place opening in the Square, just a couple of doors down from our favorite coffee shop. Not Anna's, but we figured it would be worth a try when it opened. They make a nice burrito, but it's just not the same.

However, I hadn't paid much attention to the rest of the menu, and while having a conversation with the proprietor of the coffee shop, the subject of Tenoch (the neighboring Mexican place) came up. "You've had a torta there, right?" she asked. In fact, I had not tried a torta. I hadn't even noticed that they served it, and I didn't know what a torta was.

Turns out, a torta is like a burrito sandwich, served on a soft, fluffy, oval roll called telera bread. And they're freakin' fantastic. Other ingredients that are torta-specific (at least at Tenoch) are chipotle mayonnaise and Oaxaca cheese. Other fillings include beans, onions, avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes. These are added to various meat choices; I have tried the Campechana, which combines chorizo and carnitas, and the Pollo Empanizado, which features flattened chicken pieces which are breaded and baked. You can also get either the carnitas or the chorizo solo with the other goodies, or roasted vegetables for the non-meat eaters.

Because all that stuff is on a roll instead of rolled snugly inside a tortilla, tortas are somewhat messier to eat, but they are so delicious no one would care about needing a few extra napkins. Tenoch also serves enchiladas, tacos, and other typical Mexican food, but if you go you really have to try the tortas. If you're staying there to eat, you can get beer or wine if you like.

Tenoch is at 24 Riverside Avenue in Medford Square (exit 32 off route 93). They're open Monday to Saturday until 9 pm (closed Sundays). They also have a trailer that has been showing up at various food-truck spots around Boston (they're at the SoWa market on Sundays, according to one of the staffers) and I've heard that they are going to open a second location in the North End, which will be an interesting counterpoint to that neighborhood's Italian fare.

16 June 2013

This Week in Awesome (6/15/13)

Better late than not at all...

Vulture offers its choices for the 10 best sketches from this past season of Saturday Night Live; I only disagreed with one of them.

This week's time-lapse: Dubai. (Vimeo)

Jimmy Kimmel continues The Baby Bachelor.

A music mashup of the Beatles and the Beastie Boys? Controversial, to say the least, but points for effort. (Laughing Squid)

And finally this week, I've mentioned comedian Patton Oswalt a couple of times. He's posted a long and very thoughtful essay on his personal website that touches on a number of topics that are pertinent to his particular line of work, but reflect back on the rest of us as well. And not surprisingly, he's as adept with the written word as he is onstage. Not everyone will be interested in reading this sort of thing, but I promise it's worth your time. (The A.V. Club)

14 June 2013

Retro Video Unit (6/14/13)

I've been looking at old Matthew Sweet videos for a while for this feature, and as good a song as "Girlfriend" is, I've decided to go with a different song, "Sick of Myself" from the 1995 album 100% Fun, because I think it's a near-perfect example of marrying bitter, self-loathing lyrics to a catchy melody. Sweet was by no means the first person to do that in a song, but he sure did it well. (And thanks to the blog Anthony Is Right for providing the idea.)

Also, those of us of a certain age will recognize and remember the "credits" that used to appear at the beginning and end of MTV videos like this one.

13 June 2013

It Ain't So

So the New York Times reporter doing an overview of the Bulger trial decided that South Boston is now referred to as SoBo. Not only is this absolutely not true, but if I hear someone refer to it that way, I may not be responsible for my actions. (Hat tip to Universal Hub)

Follow-up: Boston magazine decided to have some fun with this and tagged all of Boston's neighborhoods with trendy namelets. These are for entertainment purposes only, got it? (Also via UH)

11 June 2013

A Customer Service Dialogue

A couple of days after my home try-on frames arrived from Steven Alan Optical, I got an email from one of their customer service people asking me for my opinions and feedback. I wasn't expecting any sort of communication from them, so I took advantage of the opportunity and responded, sharing my thoughts on the frames and the try-on process.

I also mentioned my futile attempt to get sunglasses from Warby Parker a couple of months back, and subsequently learned that Steven Alan Optical would be able to make lenses for my prescription. I wasn't really planning to buy new glasses just yet, but since not all of their frames are available as sunglasses, I decided to ask if they could accommodate a special order.

Unfortunately that wasn't possible, at least not yet, and I also learned that, while they can make me sunglasses, they would not be able to make them with polarized lenses, which is another disappointment. But things change, and they will likely be coming out with additional styles in the fall, which might include offering more frame styles as sunglasses.

The opportunity to have a direct conversation with a rep was extremely helpful in my situation. I'm sure that I would have gotten satisfactory answers to my questions had I initiated a conversation via email, but the fact that they made the effort to contact me and say, "hey, how's it going?" elevated them in my estimation.

10 June 2013

Dads and Non-Dads

This is an excellent week to shop for clothes. Because of Father's Day, stores have lots of sales going on men's stuff. If you are a father who expects to be receiving gifts come Sunday, and you want something specific, if may be in your interest to give some detailed hints. Or you could suggest going shopping with your loved ones so you can pick out some things.

The dog does not get me presents (ungrateful creature), but I can still benefit by going shopping and picking up a few things on my own.

09 June 2013

This Week in Awesome (6/8/13)

I guess I really need to get a Bruins T-shirt now, huh?

This series of movie and TV vehicles illustrated in cartoonish style would make a great poster, or something. (Scott Park via Jalopnik)

If you're traveling to New Orleans, this looks like a fun place to stay. (Thrillist via Autoblog)

Did you hear the new Nine Inch Nails song? Pretty decent. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole album, which comes out in early September, and I might even consider going to see them when they tour in the fall.

Jimmy Kimmel debuted episode 3 of "The Baby Bachelor."

And finally this week, you may remember that back in the fall I posted "Under Pressure" as my Friday retro video song. Over here you'll find not only the isolated vocal tracks of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, but also recollections by band members and studio personnel about the creation of the song itself. (OpenCulture via Laughing Squid)

06 June 2013

Utility Work

Our utility provider has had a contractor working in our area for several weeks, replacing and rerouting the gas main that runs under our street. So far the inconvenience has been limited to occasional road closings, and when that happens there is always a detour available.

Last week we got a notice in our mailbox that the contractor would need access to our basement in order to connect the house to the new line, and after that the utility company would have to come into the basement and both units to relight all the pilots. We were instructed to call the foreman to arrange a time for this work. I set up our appointment for today.

The crew started digging around 8 am, for both our house and the one next door. As of 4 pm they are still at it. I had no idea this would be an all-day process; when I was told the contractor needed access to our basement, I assumed it was to do something that would take only a short amount of time. But there's a trench from the middle of the street right up to our front steps, where the gas line connects to the building.

It's not like I need to be anywhere, but it does mean that we don't have any gas service at the moment, and I don't know if we'll be able to get it restored today after the workers are finished—if they do finish today. And as an incidental consequence of the work being done, we're unable to get out of our driveway.

Update: We got our gas service back, but we had to call to get someone to come out. The regular National Grid customer service line operates only from 7 am to 5 pm weekdays, so I pushed the button for "gas emergency" and explained what was going on to the phone rep, which got the results I needed. The tech who showed up told me that the contractors are notoriously unreliable about remembering to call for service to be renewed after they've finished their work, which is good to know for future reference.

Watch Wednesday Wrist Want (6/5/13)

I haven't done one of these in a long time, mainly because daydreaming about expensive watches, while fun, is also somewhat of a built-in letdown. But who knows, I could win the lottery tomorrow, and there are at least a couple of pieces I'd want to get.

One of them is this watch from Bell & Ross, a Swiss company with a heritage of making pilot's watches. They have a few core designs and keep releasing variations on them with different colored cases, dials, and straps. This latest version, which isn't on sale yet, has numerals, hands, and dial markings that are meant to have an aged appearance.
This watch is about as simple as it gets, but I'm drawn to it because its design is so clean and readable. I have a thing for watch faces with large numerals, and this looks like it came right out of the 1960's. I love the circular date window, as well as its position between the four and five markers. The strap is rubber and its cross-hatch appearance is also a nod to 1960's dive watches.

In case you're wondering, when this hits the market in a few months it will retail for $3,100. There will also be a chronograph version, which will certainly cost more (similar models currently available run $4,500).

(I borrowed this image from the watch site Hodinkee; I hope they're okay with that.)

04 June 2013

Steven Alan Eyewear Follow-Up

As it happened, my trial frames from Steven Alan Optical arrived today, just a day after I'd ordered them. They shipped from Brooklyn, so it's not so much of a surprise that it took only one day for the package to get to me.

The quality of the frames is excellent, and all four of my choices happen to fit my face and head well. (Years of trying on frames and paying attention to sizing have given me a strong sense of what sizes fit me well and what won't, as long as I know the measurements.) The rivets that hold the hinges to the frames have various decorative patterns or shaped covers, and the hinges themselves (five-barrel, stronger than most) are rose-gold plated, which I think was done to be visually distinctive. There was also a hand-written note thanking me for trying their frames, a nice touch.

The color SA calls "red havana" looks closer to amber in person, but it's quite attractive. They also offer many frames in a classic shade of tortoise. Other frame color options include matte and gloss blacks, and clear crystal along with tinted variations like gray and green.

Overall, I would be quite confident choosing these glasses. I'm not ready to buy new sunglasses yet, but it's good to know this option exists.

03 June 2013

Another Eyewear Option

After striking out with Warby Parker and Classic Specs, I had more or less given up on finding suitable sunglasses through a company that offers try-at-home service like those two. (I know about Lookmatic, but nothing they have appeals to me or is the right size.)

Then I learned that New York-based men's clothing store Steven Alan has started offering prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses with frames of its own design. Each frame style is offered in multiple color choices, which I see as an advantage over their competitors (most of Warby Parker's frames are offered in only two color choices, sometimes three).

The pricing is not as wallet-friendly as Warby Parker either, but that's not unexpected because Steven Alan's clothing tends to be higher priced. (Their men's shirts range from about $150-200, in large part because almost all their house-label clothing is manufactured in the United States.) Prescription eyeglasses are $195 and sunglasses are $245, which puts them about $100 above Warby Parker's prices. There is also a $40 upcharge for the high-index lenses that I require, compared to $30 exta at WP. Overall this is still reasonable pricing for a prescription of my strength, but it's certainly not an eyewear bargain. (Non-prescription sunglasses are available for $145.)

The eyewear website says the acetate used for their frames comes from Italy, but makes no mention of where the frames themselves are manufactured, so I would assume they are made in China. I'll know the answer to that question soon enough, because I've ordered four frames to try on. Not all their frame designs are available as sunglasses, so I chose two that are and two that aren't, just to get a sense of how their frames fit and look.

02 June 2013

This Week in Awesome (6/1/13)

I let this slip last weekend while I was on a mental vacation, so let's see what I've collected...

As Bill Hader was taking his Stefon character out the door at Saturday Night Live, Entertainment Weekly compiled a "directory" of all of his club recommendations. (EW PopWatch)

Jimmy Kimmel has been skewering reality dating shows with a hilariously inappropriate take on the genre (episode 1; episode 2).

This list of rules of behavior is the sort of thing that shouldn't need to be spelled out; it used to be called "manners," and it was a given that people had them. (BuzzFeed)

And finally this week, movie directors share their favorite unappreciated and overlooked movies. (Flavorwire via Kempt)