30 September 2013


Well, I was half right in my Breaking Bad prediction; I'm fine with that.

Yesterday marked seven years since I started this blog. It's hard to believe that much time has passed. (We moved into this apartment and got our dog earlier that same year.) I still enjoy doing this, and I keep coming up with stuff to write about, though I will admit there are days when I feel pressure to say something clever, or anything at all.

As always, thanks to everyone who visits, reads, or comments.

(Car stuff will be back tomorrow.)

29 September 2013

This Week in Awesome (9/28/13)

All right, here's my Breaking Bad prediction: Walt rescues Jesse, but Jesse kills Walt anyway.

Here's a K-Tel collection you probably won't see on sale anytime soon. (Nerdcore via Laughing Squid)

This video plays a clever visual trick on viewers. (Vimeo via Gizmodo)

The New York Times asked hundreds of teens to submit photos of where they live, and collected some of the best in an online gallery. (Lens blog via The Hairpin)

And finally this week, normally I wouldn't give a moment's thought or any attention to the subject of this because I find him insufferable, but as usual Jimmy Kimmel found a way to skewer his overinflated ego. Watch this first, then this. (TV Tattle)

28 September 2013

The Fire This Time

I'm very happy that Tina Fey is hosting the season premiere of Saturday Night Live tomorrow tonight, but I'm even happier that the musical guest is Arcade Fire. Their new album Reflektor will be released in about a month, so I guess this is the first of their promotional appearances.

UPDATE: After SNL, NBC will broadcast a 30-minute Arcade Fire concert special. Adjust your DVRs accordingly.

There's a video for the single, also called "Reflektor."

The giant paper-mache heads are weird, but I found that opening it in a separate tab and listening to it without looking at the video helped me get into the song more. If you preorder the album directly through them, you get early access to concert ticket sales.

Also of note re: their SNL appearance: David Bowie sings background vocals on this song, and I'm totally speculating here, but he does live in New York so it's not out of the question that he'd show up for the live performance.

26 September 2013

Panda Rustler?

Apparently there's a panda-smuggling ring operating in the area; I spotted this culprit making off with one today at Wellington:
Someone should inform PETA, I guess.

25 September 2013

Finding the Right Monk Straps

I've never cared for the menswear-blogger favorite, the double monk strap shoe, but the appeal of the more traditional single-monk style has grown on me in recent years. It's a dressy shoe but with more flair than a standard lace-up. I started thinking about getting a pair of monk straps about two years ago, and as I started looking at the offerings from various brands, I noticed a few things that helped me find the right shoes for me.

First, a lot of shoes have straps that look too dainty for a man's shoe. Part of this depends on the width of the strap, and part of it depends on the buckle. A narrower strap and a buckle that's too rounded at the corners give the shoe a softer look overall, that I'd probably describe as more "continental." That's fine, but it's not for me.

I also noticed that some shoes had a leather loop or keeper for the strap to pass through after it gets buckled (like on a belt), and others had the strap passing through the other side of the buckle. So now I knew I wanted shoes with a wider strap, a squared-off buckle, and a keeper loop. And the buckles had to be silver-colored, since I don't care for brass belt buckles or any other yellow metal.

Toe shape is always an issue for me; a shoe that's too tapered causes cramps and other issues for me, so I looked for shoes with a more rounded shape. Then I noticed differences in how the parts of the shoe were cut. I was seeing quarters cut on an arc, like a traditional blucher or derby shoe. This pair from Cole Haan is a good example:
It's a detail I might not have noticed had I not seen a shoe that did it differently. The first such shoe I saw was one from Allen Edmonds called the Norwich, and the front edge of its quarter pieces doesn't have that arc, but angles back just slightly down to the sole, like this:
I think this blends in much better with the overall aesthetic of the shoe, giving it a more distinctive look. Like almost all AE shoes, the Norwich is made in USA and normally retails for $345. I saw these details replicated a short time later on a shoe that Ralph Lauren was offering last year. It was also made in USA and retailed for nearly $500.

Without regular income, buying a shoe like this would be an unnecessary luxury. But I got some money for my most recent birthday, and I had some extra set aside before that, so I decided I was going to buy myself the AE shoes as a birthday present. Knowing the annual Allen Edmonds sale would be starting soon, I went to one of their stores to try on shoes and figure out which size would fit me best.

I thought I was a 10.5 E, but it turned out that the 11 E was a better fit. Earlier that day I'd happened to find a pair of the same style on eBay in 11 E for $100, while buying them new would be almost $300 even with the sale discount, so I decided to save some of the money for something else and bought the shoes that were on eBay (that's them above).

I probably wouldn't choose these for daytime business dress if I was in a situation where I had to wear suits regularly, unless I was an art director or something like that. But we are attending an event next weekend for which I'll be dressing up, and it will be a good opportunity to wear these.

24 September 2013


A quick reminder: this is Banned Books Week. Celebrate the freedom to read.

23 September 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #5

(In case you're wondering, there was no TWiA this weekend due to a lack of suitable material.)

The parking lot of our local Ocean State Job Lot has turned out to be a pretty good source for car-spotting. (Several years ago I saw two old Dodges parked next to each other, but the pictures I took have been lost over years of switching phones and memory cards.)

I took this picture three or four months ago, before I realized that I should be getting shots from multiple angles when possible, so this side view will have to do.
This is an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme sedan from the mid-1980s. The Cutlass nameplate originated as the sportier top trim level on Olds's "premium compact" F-85, which arrived for the 1961 model year. For 1964 the F-85 and Cutlass evolved into a midsize car that shared General Motors corporate DNA with the Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac Tempest, and Buick Special. This "platform," known as the GM A-body, was produced until the late 1980s, so this car represents the final years of that line. But for much of the later 1970s and early '80s, the Cutlass Supreme coupe was the most popular car sold in the US.

This basic design arrived for 1978 as part of GM's downsizing program, but with a rather homely slanted-back roofline (called "aeroback" by GM) that went completely against the grain of the general design themes common at the time, which had been so successful for Olds. Also questionable: the windows in the rear doors did not roll down. It also came as a two-door model, and there were Buick versions of these as well.

Disliked by the public, sales of the aeroback models slipped significantly and GM rethought the decision; for 1980 they introduced a revised design with the upright roofline you see here. The windows in the rear doors were still fixed, but the narrow flip-out window was added for a meager amount of ventilation.

The tail lights and other minor trim details identify this car as being anywhere from an '84 to an '87. For 1982 GM had shifted the A designation to a new range of midsize cars with front-wheel-drive, but kept the older models, now called G-bodies, in production for several more years. This is a common practice among automakers, because after a few years in production, the main costs of developing a vehicle have been recovered and continued sales yield mostly profits.

These days it's surprising to come across a car that's still in somewhat regular use in this area after nearly three decades, but this Cutlass Supreme is soldiering on.

20 September 2013

Retro Video Unit (9/20/13)

Today I'm going back to my college years for a song for which I never even realized there was a video. Yaz, known as Yazoo at home in England (there was a band in the US already using the name Yazoo at the time), was a synth-pop duo started by Vince Clarke, an original member of Depeche Mode who left early on to do his own thing.

He teamed up with vocalist Alison Moyet for a brief but influential period in the early 1980s; they only released two albums, Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both, before deciding to go their separate ways. Moyet pursued a solo career while Clarke formed the long-running duo Erasure with Andy Bell, a singer who sounded uncannily like Moyet.

This song, "Situation," is from the first album and is almost certainly the first song by them I heard. It's bouncy and upbeat, and would probably be good on a workout playlist.

It's Time You Knew

Maybe you heard earlier this week that AMC is splitting the final season of Mad Men and holding back the second half for a year, like they've done with Breaking Bad. That means viewers won't get to see the end of Mad Men until the spring of 2015.

You might also have expected me to have something to say about it here, as I have with many bits of Mad Men and other TV-related news. You also may have noticed that that sort of material hasn't been appearing in this space for a while. (Or you may not have noticed these things; that's okay too.)

Fact is, I've had a different outlet for my TV writing for about six months now. It's a Boston-based site called The Longfellow Bridge that started up in April, and I've been contributing there since the beginning. Those of you who know me personally know that I've been doing this, but if you only know me through what I write here, you wouldn't necessarily have any reason to make the connection.

I decided it's time to make my efforts known, and encourage you to visit The LFB, not just for my writing but for the efforts of everyone else who contributes there, in part because I feel a responsibility to promote the site in an effort to build its audience.

I do a weekly roundup of suggestions of things to watch that is posted every Monday, plus feature articles that include reviews, opinion and criticism, and stuff about the TV and media business as well. It's been a very satisfying experience and a new challenge for me, and I hope it will continue for some time.

And since I started out by bringing up this Mad Men development, here's what I had to say about it.

18 September 2013

Thinking About Fall: Shoes

Tuesday really felt like fall, didn't it? Had to close all the windows Monday night, had to wear long pants. Of course it's getting warm again at the end of this week, but Tuesday was fall sending the message: I'll be there soon.

When fall arrives, I always start thinking about clothes and shoes. I don't need anything, but I think about it anyway. I think it's a leftover instinct from childhood back-to-school shopping. For now I'm just browsing, but I have seen a few things that are appealing.

The L.L. Bean "blucher moc" is a great basic casual shoe; I wear mine almost year-round, except for when it's really cold and wet because they offer no protection from the elements, and the soles are thin so as soon as the ground gets cold, you feel it. Recently there have been variations on this style in suede, which makes perfect sense. Last year I picked up a pair of Eastlands from Urban Outfitters in a sort of honey color, and while I like them a lot, I've found that the color makes them a little trickier to work into the shoe rotation.

Bean had a suede version of its blucher moc in tan last year in its Signature line, and also in navy and loden green. This year they have it in "amber," which is darker than either the tan or the honey, and a really nice deep olive. That's the one that really appeals to me. People might think, "Green shoes? Really?" The loden ones were kind of an odd hue, but these are dark enough to not stand out in a bad way, and the color will blend nicely with other fall colors and fabrics.

LLBS also offers a leather version of the shoe in a brown that's darker than the "saddle" version in the regular line, but with a tan sole instead of the original's black. Some people might prefer the shoe in this colorway, so it's nice to know it's there. And for even more variety, there are ankle-boot versions of both the suede and leather styles, called "ranger mocs."

16 September 2013

Car Stuff: Weird Wheels

This car belongs to a neighbor, so I see it pretty much every day, and every time I see it, I think about what a strange choice the owner made with these wheels:
If you are going to spend the money and make the effort to put aftermarket wheels on your car, these seem like a very unlikely choice. Corollas are inherently boring, but this color manages to make the car look just a tiny bit more interesting. A wheel with such thin spokes reads as nearly black from a distance, and takes away whatever tiny measure of pizzazz the color gives it. A set of polished wheels, or at least matte-finish chrome, with slightly wider spokes would brighten the lower part of the car and make it stand out in a more positive way.

Also, the design is symmetrical, which reminds me unfavorably of a wagon wheel in the old West. There's a reason why the "mag" wheels that became popular in the 1960s had five spokes or slots: an odd number of openings in the surface of a wheel reads as much more visually interesting than one with an even number. And while I'm no fan of the oversized wheels and rubber-band tires that so many car owners seem to favor, these seem too small for this car by at least an inch, maybe two. (I suspect the owner wanted to use the stock tires to keep the expense down.)

15 September 2013

This Week in Awesome (9/14/13)

For some reason I thought I had done this yesterday...

Style "don'ts" from tech geeks, to which I would add: a man does not need a black suit, and in fact should not have one. Just step away... (BuzzFeed)

Great works of art, simplified. (BuzzFeed)

This week's time-lapse video is one I've been waiting for: the construction of One World Trade Center. (Village Voice)

And finally this week, Friday was the 20th anniversary of the debut of Late Night With Conan O'Brien, so Vulture asked him about some of the show's early recurring bits.

13 September 2013


I have a video for you today, but it's something a bit different.

The Mrs. started a new job this week with several days of mandatory orientation sessions. These included information about benefits, training specific to her field, and the obligatory information about sexual harassment.

On the very first day of orientation her group was shown this video, which aims to dramatize potential harassment situations using stuffed animals.

She found this quite funny, not because of the content (as someone who is making a career out of helping others, she would never make light of such a situation) but because of the way it's presented.

12 September 2013

Spelling It Out

I am reasonably comfortable and conversant with technology, but part of that comes from making efforts to keep things as simple as possible. I've been using Apple computers for over 20 years, while my limited knowledge of how to do certain things in Windows has faded away. I've had TiVo DVRs for about eight years now, and part of the reason I stick with them is because they are so simple to use. (One time when I was visiting my mother she asked me a question about how to do something on her DVR; 45 minutes later I hadn't been able to figure it out, and never did.)

In the final half-season of Breaking Bad currently airing, there has been a lot of whispering. We had to turn up the volume really loud in several scenes, and then of course when the music comes up it blasts us out of our seats (plus our living room is directly under our upstairs neighbor's bedroom, and we try to be considerate about such things). At one point we were forced to turn off the air conditioner in order to hear the whispered dialogue.

So the Mrs. asked me if I knew how to turn on the closed-captioning. I thought I did, but couldn't find anything obvious on the remote. A couple of days later she started working her way through all the TiVo's on-screen menus; I was busy in the next room, but some time later she let out a yell of delight. She had figured out how to activate the CC function. It seems to have been there in the on-screen program info display all along, and we just hadn't ever noticed it.

I was under the impression that we could use it only while watching shows live, but it turned out that the CC data is embedded in the program recordings and can be viewed during later playback. The quality of the transcriptions seems to vary from show to show and even from episode to episode of the same show, but it's there.

As a bonus, being able to access the closed captioning makes it easier for us to enjoy British crime dramas like Luther and Broadchurch, which have a variety of accents with varying degrees of aural decipherability.

09 September 2013

Car Stuff: Family History #2

(This post was delayed due to technical issues: our printer has become extremely temperamental about scanning things, so I was forced to take pictures of this picture with my phone.)
This was my family's 1970 Plymouth Sport Suburban, which my parents acquired early in 1972, when this picture was taken. It was our "family truckster" for a number of years at a time when full-size station wagons were at roughly the height of their popularity.

Prior to getting this car, we'd had two Chevrolet wagons, a 1965 Bel Air in "Artesian turquoise" (which was closer to aqua) and a 1966 Caprice in white with wood siding (very much like this, but with a blue interior). The Plymouth also had the distinction of being the newest car my parents had owned up to that point.

Although this was Plymouth's top of the line wagon for 1970, it was not equipped with lots of the stuff we take for granted as standard on our cars today. It didn't have air conditioning, the radio was AM only, the windows were manual (except for the one in the tailgate); such luxuries were still optional on most cars at that time. Since it was a used car, my parents did not have the choice of whether or not to get the third seat; this car didn't have one. It was not strictly necessary, as we were perfectly content to ride in the "way back" sitting on the hard floor, but I'm sure if it had had the third seat, we would have made use of it.

I remember being pretty excited about it when we got it; about the only thing that I thought was cooler at the time was the new 1972 version, which I'd seen an example of either in the showroom at the dealership or on the lot, plus in the brochures I enthusiastically took home; even though I knew our budget would not allow for the purchase of a new car, I guess my young brain wanted to imagine the possibility of a quick trade of this car for an even newer one.

In hindsight the '70 was much better looking than the '72 (see for yourself). With the passage of so many years, it's become my favorite car of all the ones we had while I was growing up. That's partly because I like how it looks and partly because we went so many places in it: Disney World, Cape Cod, Lake Winnipesaukee. There's one other picture I was able to scan, from our Florida vacation:
That's my grandmother, who accompanied us on our voyage. This was taken at a rest stop/welcome center just over the border when coming into the state from Georgia on route 95. Taking family trips by car is one of those things that it seems people don't do as much anymore, but when I was growing up it was much more common than traveling by air, at least for average families like mine. (I did not travel on an airplane until I was nearly 21.)

08 September 2013

This Week in Awesome (9/7/13)

It's not very often that the Red Sox and Patriots play games at the exact same time, so get your channel-flipping thumbs limbered up...

Another TV mashup brings together two of my favorite shows. (Uproxx via Basket of Kisses)

This week's time-lapse: building the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Laughing Squid)

This one's a bit long, but definitely worth it for movie fans. I've never seen the movie in question, but it's now conveniently available on Netflix streaming, so I'm going to remedy that soon. (BuzzFeed via The Hairpin)

Is it worth 20 minutes of your time to watch bloopers from season 5 of Parks and Recreation? If you're a fan of the show, definitely. (Uproxx via Videogum)

And finally this week, a bit of a deep dive into local infrastructure, specifically a highway that did not get built. Ever wondered about the mural on the back of Micro Center in Cambridge? This will explain it. It is interesting (though not necessarily in a positive way) to think about what our area would be like if these projects had been completed. (Cambridge Historical Society via Universal Hub; if you really want to get lost for a couple of hours, the original UH post that led me to the CHS site is here)

06 September 2013

Retro Video Unit (9/6/13)

In the portion of the internet's attic where old music videos are stored, there are songs that I've always liked for which there are videos that I have never seen. That's the case with today's nugget, "Fade to Grey" by Visage.

I'll admit to knowing very little about the group itself, but I've been familiar with the song for more than 30 years. The video certainly has its share of oddness, but I think it makes quite an interesting cultural artifact from the early 1980s.

05 September 2013

Rooftop with a View

Last Friday we were in the city with our house guest. She was taking the ferry to Hingham to see some other friends, so we walked around the waterfront for a while. After she went to board the boat we headed back across the channel via the Seaport Boulevard bridge, heading toward South Station.

As we turned onto Atlantic Avenue I remembered reading that the office building on that corner has an observatory that is open to the public, so I mentioned this and we went inside. We had to show IDs and the guard took down our names, then we were directed to take the elevator to the 14th floor.

Once there we turned a corner and saw a door leading outside. The "observatory" is just an open area of the roof, which was fine that day (though it was warm and quite humid) but would be something to keep in mind if you're thinking about visiting.

It's not nearly the tallest building in the area, but how often do you get to go on the roof of any downtown building? I did take a few photos with my phone camera.
This is the view looking roughly north over the Rose Kennedy Greenway, with the off- and on-ramps for route 93 in the foreground. The Harbor Towers buildings are in the middle, with the New England Aquarium behind them (out of view from this direction) and the Marriott Long Wharf hotel just barely visible in the background.

The view to the south is somewhat more open (for now at least):
This area certainly looks quite different than when I worked over here in the 1990s. The open spaces have been gradually filled in by development. I would imagine that the parking lots between Northern Avenue and Seaport Boulevard will eventually be replaced by buildings as well.

If you are interested in visiting this site yourself, it's open during business hours Monday to Friday. The building is at 470 Atlantic Avenue, adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel.

04 September 2013


I turned 50 last week. There's a lot of significance attached to that, whether we like it or not. When you turn 40 you figure that, roughly speaking, you've reached the approximate halfway point of your life. Add another decade to that and, on average, most people will be past their halfway point.

Of course there are exceptions. My paternal grandmother lived to 90 and her mother lived to her mid-90s, so genetically I have some longevity in my favor. But the odds are also much higher that one's quality of life in the "second half" will be worse than the first. It's hard not to start taking stock of one's health, and all the things that could go wrong.

I don't smoke and I drink responsibly and in moderation. My blood pressure is reasonably low, my cholesterol numbers are decent (but could be better), and I don't have arthritis or any bad joints (yet). On the other hand, I am lazy and don't exercise. I am slightly overweight, though my weight has been stable for nearly a decade. My father developed diabetes in adulthood, as did his mother, so I have to watch out for that possibility, but I don't have the greatest diet and I snack a lot.

I'm at much higher risk for skin cancer than the average person, so I have to be vigilant and see a dermatologist twice a year. (I hate heat and humidity, so not going outside isn't a problem for me.) Both my grandfathers died of lung cancer; as a child both my parents smoked and I was exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke, before anyone realized how harmful that is.

I could arrange these things on a board in pro and con fashion, to see the bigger picture. My lack of physical activity will probably end up affecting my quality of life in twenty years or so in terms of mobility, and may also put me at higher risk for heart disease. This is serious, and I know I should do something about it.

But today, right now, I feel good. I have minor issues, but overall my health is good. I know people who have had hip replacements before reaching 50, and thankfully I haven't had to deal with anything like that. It's somewhat true that age is not a number but a state of mind; there are things we can't control, and things we can.

Part of me wants to see what would happen if I just kept going the way I am, without making the effort to exercise, but it's not like I'd get a do-over. I guess it's time for me to think about taking better care of myself.

03 September 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #4

I've been away from the blog for a few days, as we had a house guest and a bunch of activities going on through the long weekend. Those of you who may have found your way here via Universal Hub and decided to have another look are about to find out what else I ramble about...
This is another neighborhood find, a mid-1960s Ford pickup that I pass by while walking to the grocery store. It's registered and has plates, and I know it is driven because I've seen it parked facing toward the street as well as like this.

I would venture that the paint is not an original color. It seems more like a 1950s color (I remember seeing 1950s Chevy pickups painted this shade), but you never know. The wheels could have come from the factory painted red, or these might be from a completely different vehicle.

(Edit: a google search says turquoise was available, but it's a somewhat deeper shade; this is definitely more of what I'd call aqua.)

This basic design was around for model years 1961-66, but the first three years had side sheet metal that was integrated into the cab; the gap between cab and bed identified this one as at least a '64-'66, and the side trim pegs it as specifically a '64. There was an all-new design for '67, and my father had one of those for a while, the kind with the bulging rear fenders and flat interior bed sides.

Some time after I took this picture, I passed by it again on my way to the store, and I was going to get another shot of the front, but the whole front half of the truck was covered by a tarp, so either it's being worked on or there are water leakage issues in the cab. Those old rubber window seals can dry up and turn to dust after half a century, after all. I should go investigate again and see where things are.