31 December 2013

Overheard: Future Dr. Evil Edition

On Sunday afternoon we were at the Flour bakery off Congress Street in the Seaport District. It's near the Children's Museum and the parking garage that its visitors use, so there are always lots of families around.

I was standing outside, waiting for the Mrs. to come out and eating a doughnut I had purchased. My back was to the people passing by (in case I made an embarrassing mess while eating) so I didn't get a good look at this future mad scientist, but as one family passed behind me a boy of maybe eight was chanting in a singsong voice, "I have a bio-weapon!" I'm guessing this was in reference to something he'd acquired from the museum gift shop, filtered through an overactive imagination.

(Side note: that doughnut? Insane. It's $3, but it's also roughly the size of a softball and filled to bursting with delicious raspberry goo.)

30 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #16

Some people will only photograph cars that are parked on the street, but if I can see it, I'll attempt to grab a picture of it. I found this car parked in a driveway in my neighborhood, on a day I decided to take a walk in a different direction and ended up on a street I had not explored before.
I wasn't going to walk up into someone's yard, so that's why I got only the one shot of this Oldsmobile Delta 88. This car is a close under-the-skin relative of the Chevrolet Caprice I posted about two months ago. The tail lights say this is either a 1984 or '85 model; the car was completely redesigned for '86. The two-door version of this car is a lot less common than the four-door, which may explain why someone appears to be putting effort into fixing up this one.

The badge on the vinyl roof says "Royale"; at one point this designated a higher-trim Delta 88 model, but by '84 all Delta 88s were Royales. The badge on the trunk may say "Brougham," which took things a notch higher, and the wire wheel covers were indeed part of the Brougham package. "Royale Brougham" is a bit of a mouthful, but in '85 they added an even higher trim level, the Delta 88 Royale Luxury Sedan.

Notice also the green-letter license plate. These were last printed in 1987 and have largely been replaced by the red-letter "Spirit of America" design, but the state grudgingly allows motorists to keep the "greenies" as long as they are still legible (more on the green plates here). This car has probably had the same plate affixed to it since it was first registered, which is kind of cool.

29 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/28/13)

The interwebs were a little light on newness during this inter-holiday week, but then again so am I...

Have I mentioned that I'm a fan of design? It's always been an area of interest, making a blog like this an especially welcome discovery. (BuzzFeed)

I also enjoy learning about the complexities and variations of our language. The New York Times offered this recent quiz about dialect and word usage, and Mental Floss (via Dappered) compiled a brief list of unusual localized words.

And finally this week, go make some music. It's fun, try it. (Shake Shack's tumblr)

(By the way, a little spoon told me that the Harvard Square Shake Shack has soft-opened, meaning they are serving only frozen custard treats for the time being. 92 Winthrop Street, at the rear of the Galleria building.)

27 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/27/13)

Most people don't think of The Ramones as a video band. They were hardly photogenic relative to other early MTV faves, but they made their share of clips. In 1980 the band released an album produced by Phil Spector, End of the Century, which produced the single "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?"

As music videos go this is pretty simplistic, but the use of the TV set as a framing device, with the band members watching themselves and others on the screen, is a knowing wink to the fact that MTV viewers were sitting in front of their TV sets watching the videos.

26 December 2013

Grandma Got the Guest Room

Our Christmas visit was very brief; the Mrs. had to work today so we drove back from RI last night. But we had plenty of great food and a nice time with my family.

Last week I mentioned the "H&M" short as one of the high points of this season of Saturday Night Live. Well, the bar has already been raised again with this minor masterpiece from last weekend's Christmas show, featuring host Jimmy Fallon. (Adult content, generally)

24 December 2013

Car Stuff: Need a Ride?

Have you heard of Uber? If you live in or near a city of moderately large size, there's a decent chance Uber is operating there. It's a car service that lets you summon a ride by using a smartphone app (or by text message for those with regular cell phones). You set up an account and provide your credit card information, so that when you use the service no cash changes hands; the rides are billed to your credit card, and the gratuity is included in the fare.

I am not a frequent taxi user, but as someone who doesn't drive, there are times when I need another option for getting home (or to a destination other than home) besides the T. When Uber first came to Boston it operated as a "black car" service (think prosperous business types with expense accounts), but later they began offering a lower-cost option called UberX that is priced competitively with taxis. UberX drivers use regular cars, which are still way nicer and more comfortable than most cabs. (As a bonus, UberX fares were lowered a couple of months ago, making it likely that an UberX ride will now be cheaper than a cab ride.)

I first used the service in July when I needed to go to a medical appointment in Watertown and the Mrs. was not available to drive me. I could have gotten there via the T, but it would have taken an excessive amount of time and I didn't feel like setting out from home two hours ahead of the scheduled visit. I had a code for a discount on the first ride so I signed up and summoned my driver via the app.

For me, one of the more interesting things about using Uber is getting to ride in a variety of cars. When your ride is confirmed, the Uber app shows you the driver's name and what type of car they are driving. I suppose the intent is to give you an idea of what car you should be watching for, and I imagine this information is lost on many people who don't pay attention to cars or have a particular interest in them, but for me it's been a new, fun surprise each time.

I've used the service a total of five times so far, and each time I've ridden in a different type of car. My first ride was in a Volkswagen Passat, not the version currently on sale but the older one, which was still quite comfortable. (The Mrs. ended up having a current Passat as a rental in September while her car was being repaired, so I've been in one of those too.) Next was a Dodge Avenger, which is kind of generic and ugly and plasticky inside, definitely not a car that's going to impress anyone but probably a perfect car for this sort of situation.

My next ride was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but one that had been in use for a while. By my estimate it was about ten years old, and I was a little surprised that Uber would let a driver use a car of that age, but it got me home. In October I needed to get home from downtown on a Saturday afternoon, and the bus to our house runs only every 30 minutes on Saturdays so I decided to summon an UberX ride. This time my driver was piloting a nearly new Toyota Venza, which would be called a Camry wagon if Americans still cared about station wagons.

A couple of Mondays ago I had another medical thing, this time in Davis Square. That's a little less than 3.5 miles from our house, but getting there is convoluted. I have to allow at least an hour of transit time, plus whatever I have to add on to allow for the less than frequent bus where we live. It was raining steadily that morning, and I didn't get ready as quickly as I should have, so I ended up missing the bus I had intended to catch. UberX was the solution; my ride was a Ford Fusion, again the previous generation but immaculately kept and much nicer than the Dodge. The ride took all of 11 minutes, even in the rain. (After each trip you receive an emailed receipt with the distance traveled, time, and total charge.)

I have to make one observation about the drivers: many of them use GPS, which makes complete sense. But some of them lean on it a little too heavily, in my opinion. On my last trip I told the driver I was going to Davis Square. This is a prominent location, and anyone who lives around here and drives a car should have some idea of how to get there. The driver needed a street address to input the destination and start getting directions. I knew the name of the street but not the number, so I had to look it up on my phone. Then he said the GPS couldn't locate that street, but I think he may have mistyped it because on the second try it started telling him where to go. On some of my other rides the drivers were fine with me giving them verbal directions, like you would with a taxi driver.

There are always tradeoffs, and I find UberX to be highly preferable to a dirty, ancient cab with a worn-out suspension, where you have to ask the driver to turn on the air conditioning. In the future I will have a physical address ready in case a driver asks me for it.

(By the way, this is not a sponsored post, nor is it an endorsement. Other than the initial discount code, I've paid for my Uber rides with my own money. I'm sharing my experiences so that others can decide if Uber is something they are interested in using.)

23 December 2013

Last Week in Awesome (12/21/13)

Damn, the weekend slipped past me again... early resolution: try to post TWiA on Saturdays.

This is old now (in internet terms) so some of you probably already saw it, but for anyone who is interested in the process behind how the things we buy are made and gotten to stores, it's worthy of your time. (NPR via Put This On)

Here's one for the word nerds. (Oxford English Dictionary via Laughing Squid)

Old postcards are admittedly a filtered view of reality, but they are still a fascinating window into the past, particularly of our cities. (Neat Stuff via Hemmings Blog)

And finally last week, the HBO show-children's book series crossover we were all waiting for? (Best Week Ever via Videogum)

20 December 2013


Comcast has been carpet-bombing us with letters asking us to call for an "account review," promising to give us more for our money. We get one about every two weeks. The cost of our cable and internet has crept up and up over the past several years and it would be nice to have that bill reduced if possible, so the Mrs. asked me to call them.

I was reluctant to call for a couple of reasons. I don't care for the idea that there's some sort of special discount that may be available, but the only way i can find out about it is if I call the provider. Big companies like Comcast expend most of their effort toward getting new customers, whether that means luring people away from their competition or expanding the areas where they offer their services. Longtime customers should be rewarded for their loyalty, and it should be really easy for me to find out what those rewards are, like going into my account online.

Beyond that I suspected the call would be a waste of time. I called yesterday, and I was right. I was hoping for some sort of discount or variation on our current package that would lower our bill, and I made it clear at the start of the call that I was not interested in adding any other services (they sell all kinds of other crap now like home monitoring, which I'm sure is great for some people). The only offer the rep was able to offer was the addition of HBO and Starz, for about the same amount as we're paying now, but only with a package that includes a home phone line that we neither need nor want.

When I pointed this out to the rep, she actually said something like, "You don't have to activate it." How incredibly pointless and stupid is that? Especially now, with people turning away from cable TV but keeping internet access in order to use streaming services, you would think companies like Comcast would be trying to do more to hold onto the customers they have. I believe it's time for us to consider other provider options.

18 December 2013

Tie Game

For those of you who first came around here because of something that I wrote about clothing, shoes, or shopping, I haven't forgotten about you. My financial situation over the past year or so has made it harder for me to shop with the same fervor I used to have, but every now and then I'm still going to have something to say about an item of clothing.

I occasionally go on job interviews and attend events that require getting dressed up, so I need ties. I like ties; I wore them in high school. I have about 30 of them, which some might think is too many for someone who isn't required to wear them to work daily, but I've found that having choices works better for me when I'm trying to put together an outfit.

I just bought two ties from The Tie Bar, an Illinois-based online store. They first came to my attention several years back because of their tie bars, which are featured in the fashion layouts in nearly every issue of GQ. They also offer a wide selection of inexpensive pocket squares (around $8 for the cotton ones).

And for ties, they are a terrific resource. They have a huge variety of ties, almost all of which are $15 each (extra-long styles are $20). Many are offered in a choice of standard or skinnier widths. They also sell other accessories like cufflinks, socks, and suspenders. Standard shipping is a flat $5.99 for any size order, and with prices as reasonable as theirs, it makes sense to order several items at once.

You might think a $15 tie would be a piece of junk, but part of what makes The Tie Bar an appealing place to shop is that their products offer excellent value and are nicely made for the price. You could go to Macy's and pay $40 to $50 for a tie with some designer's name on the label, and there wouldn't be any difference in quality between it and a tie from The Tie Bar. I'm not saying their stuff is on the same level as something by Ferragamo or Zegna, but it sure costs a hell of a lot less.
These are the two ties I got last week. I have never cared for striped ties; I tend to favor geometrics, paisleys, or solids with texture. For the past several years I've been inclined toward simpler designs, and both of these are definitely in that vein.

It's difficult to go wrong with a polka-dot tie (unless you choose a weird color); while I've never liked navy, I really like royal blue, and I've been wanting a tie in this color for a while. The silver tie has a very fine basket-weave texture that catches the light nicely. This would be a great choice to wear to a wedding, with a dark pinstripe suit and a white shirt. As a bonus, it also works well with some of my striped dress shirts (if you're going bolder with your shirt, then you should probably go more subtle with the tie).

17 December 2013

Shoppin'-Ass Ninja

When Andy Samberg left Saturday Night Live to star in a sitcom (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has turned out to be pretty good), it seemed that the Digital Shorts (pre-taped segments usually constructed around a song by Samberg and his cohorts in The Lonely Island) would go with him. The title is gone, but the show continues to produce segments that are very similar in spirit and arguably just as good.

Earlier this fall when Kerry Washington hosted, the joke song "The Fox" by Ylvis got morphed into "What Does My Girl Say?" (check it out over here on Hulu). This past weekend John Goodman hosted, and I think the show hit a new high with this clip, called "H&M," featuring Goodman and Jay Pharoah, with some help from Taran Killam and several other cast members (there are an awful lot of them these days).

I think this one benefits from watching it more than once; I've watched it three or four times and I'm still laughing at it.

16 December 2013

Car Stuff: Car Show Outtake

When I posted pictures from the car show I attended back in July, I covered every car i had photographed except one. I came across it while looking for something else in iPhoto. I'm not sure why I didn't include it; maybe I thought I had featured enough cars in the two posts. Regardless, I had this one left over and decided to feature it today.
This is a 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe with the 4-4-2 package, customized by Hurst. At the height of the muscle-car era in the late 1960s the 4-4-2 was a separate model in the Cutlass lineup, as its cousin the GTO was the high-performance version of the Pontiac LeMans. The 4-4-2 was sometimes referred to as a "gentleman's hot rod" because Oldsmobiles were considered more refined than Pontiacs (and cost more).

By the early 1970s the muscle car was all but dead due to emissions requirements and insurance concerns. Big engines were still available, but they made far less horsepower than their predecessors, and cars like the 4-4-2 were relegated to option packages, more about show than go.

Hurst Performance was a Pennsylvania company that supplied parts to auto manufacturers and offered its own performance upgrades. They were involved in the production of performance versions of cars for several auto brands. The Hurst/Olds first appeared in 1968; for 1974, 1800 were built, making this a pretty rare car even when new. The gold striping and wheels were the most distinctive parts of the package, along with the black roof band and hood louvers. (A modified version of this car, with the roof removed in front of and behind that band, was the pace car for the 1974 Indianapolis 500 race.)

15 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/14/13)

We didn't get that much snow, and it turned to rain this morning as the temperature climbed into the 30s. Unfortunately I didn't realize it was going to drop again so quickly, and by the time I got outside around noon, everything had a nice crust of ice on top of it. It took me about 3-1/2 hours and I didn't even finish the back of the house because my arms were worn out (possibly from having to use the metal shovel, which is much heavier).

Anyway, on to this week's bits of joy...

I don't know whose idea this was, but it's kind of fascinating and horrifying at the same time. (BangShift via The Truth About Cars)

Here's a Christmas wrapping lesson for one of those oddly shaped objects that can be tricky to wrap. (Hint: it's not a golf club.) (Death and Taxes via Videogum)

Billy Eichner enlisted Amy Poehler to engage unsuspecting pedestrians in some impromptu caroling. (YouTube via Jimmy Kimmel Live)

And finally this week, if that didn't put you in the Christmas spirit, well... we've been regular viewers of The Daily Show for a long time, and this segment (which is in two parts) is a perfect example of why we keep watching.

14 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/13/13)

I had hoped to find something Christmasy, in the vein of previous selections "Fairytale of New York" and "Christmas in Hollis." I was really hoping for a video of "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, but there doesn't seem to be one. There are all kinds of fan-made videos, which I find to be just too weird to contemplate in any depth.

So we'll have to go in a different direction. Some bands merit revisiting, so today we have another song from Blondie, "Dreaming" from their 1979 album Eat to the Beat. I've always had a thing for bands with keyboards, and I also believe that Clem Burke is one of the best rock drummers ever.

12 December 2013

New Phone, New Case

I ended up getting a new iPhone last week. I wasn't planning on upgrading until I had a more consistent source of income, but a visit to the Verizon website indicated that the trade-in value of my 4S was equivalent to the upfront cost of a new 5S, excluding the tax. So I ordered it up and it arrived in a couple of days.

Right after that came the padded envelope to submit my old phone for its trade-in assessment. Off it went the same day (it's nice when our mail gets delivered early enough in the day to accomplish things like that), and yesterday I got an email confirming the appraised value, which I will receive in the form of a Verizon Wireless gift card, which I can apply to my balance.

I knew that when I eventually upgraded my phone I would need to get a new case, because the 5S, like the 5 before it, is taller and slimmer than my 4S. As much as I liked my book-style case from Pad & Quill, I had decided that I didn't want another of the same thing, but I still wanted to be able to remove the phone from its case fairly quickly and easily, mainly because I'm so much in the habit of doing so.

Bumpers and molded cases are meant to stay on the phone all the time, so I knew I didn't want to go in that direction. I had bookmarked a few styles that I had seen and liked, so I started going back and evaluating them more carefully. Twelve South, the makers of the BookBook case, also have a very minimal leather cover that adheres to the phone but can be removed, and also folds back to make a stand so you can watch videos without having to hold the phone. At first I thought I was going to get this, but I realized that it would probably end up annoying me.

Ultimately I decided on a vertical sleeve style, with an opening at the top that the phone slips into. Many of the cases I saw of this type also have an opening on the bottom for connecting the charging cable, but I always remove my phone from its case to charge it in a desktop dock so I did not want or need this feature. Many cases of this type also have a pocket on the outside, or sometimes more than one. I understand the utility of this, but I didn't want that either.
After some more pondering and google searching, I chose a case I had bookmarked some time ago, from a Texas company called Castello DaVarg. They craft all their products in the US, and use only leather from US tanneries. My case arrived yesterday, and their commitment to craftsmanship and quality is evident in the finished product.
My only real objection is that they deliberately choose not to offer their products in black. The color I chose, a dark tan that features orange stitching, is quite lovely, but I would have liked the option of a black case, if for no other reason than my iPhone is black and I prefer things to be coordinated when possible.

10 December 2013

Inappropriately Dressed

Yesterday as I was waiting for a bus outside the Davis T station during the afternoon's rain, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a tall guy heading into the station wearing a long black trench coat. My brain suggested to me that something was off about the image my eye had just processed, so I turned and took a second look. I then saw that the guy was wearing black shoes and socks. I was able to see that he was wearing black socks because he wasn't wearing any pants.

I do occasionally see burly he-man types wearing shorts on cold days; they generally appear to be heading to or from a gym. This may have been the same type of situation, but the long coat made him look suspicious and creepy. Alternately, that annual no-pants subway ride is coming up next month; maybe he was getting in a practice run, figuring out his route?

09 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #15

When I say "random," sometimes it's really random. Today's found car was spotted on a side street in Cambridge between Central Square and Trader Joe's. Normally when we go to TJ's we're driving from home, so we take Memorial Drive. On this particular day I met the Mrs. at her office because it was near the store, and as we drove she turned onto this street by mistake. But when I saw this car I knew instantly what it was, and asked her to pull over because I couldn't pass it up as a subject.
It's an Edsel, Ford's doomed attempt to make its lineup of brands more like that of its main competition, General Motors. For decades GM's lineup of brands was intended to be aspirational: GM hoped that customers who bought Chevrolet as starter cars would then move up through its hierarchy of more prestigious brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, then Cadillac) as their material fortunes improved, since the brand of car one buys was and is an indicator of one's prosperity.

Ford had Mercury and then Lincoln for its buyers to move up to, but they perceived a gap in the market between Ford and Mercury that someone believed needed filling. But when they launched the line in the fall of 1957, the country was in the grip of a significant recession that caused car sales to drop industry-wide, plus the Edsel's styling was—there's no way to sugar-coat it—dreadful. (The entire car industry was going through a difficult period of gaudy, overdone styling; offering yet another bad example was not a prudent course of action.)
This one is a 1959, the second of Edsel's brief, three-model-year existence. The '59s were toned down compared to the previous year, but it was already too late to matter. By the time the 1960 models reached showrooms, with styling that shared the bulk of its sheetmetal with that year's Fords and still managed to look pretty good compared to some of the other cars available that year, the whole brand was DOA. The '60 cars were produced for just over two months, and only 2,846 cars were built.

Now any Edsel is rare and sought-after, a bitter irony in light of how the car was mocked and shunned when new. This car has plates and appears to be driven at least occasionally, and overall it looks far better than one might expect given its age. On the rear side you can see the "Ranger" script  that indicates this would have been the lower of the two model lines offered this year. There were four lines offered in '58, but the car did so poorly so quickly that the offerings were curtailed the following year.)
Early on, some Edsels were built at a Ford plant in Somerville, MA, but it was closed in October 1957. That's how the Assembly Square Mall (and later, shopping center) got its name—it occupies the site of the former plant.

08 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/7/13)

I know TWiA has been a bit erratic lately, but I'm going to try to get it back on track.

Have you ever thought about which actors might be chosen to portray puppet characters from a certain children's TV show? Someone has. (TV Tattle)

In the realm of personal technology and computers, there are a number of symbols that we have become accustomed to seeing, but where did they come from? (visual.ly via Laughing Squid)

The Blues Brothers is one of my favorite movies, and one of my favorite parts is the chase through the shopping mall. Here it's been painstakingly recreated. (BangShift via Mpoar Blog)

And finally this week, you don't have to be a parent to appreciate these video shorts, but I'm sure it makes them even funnier: parts 1, 2, and 3, plus the associated tumblr site. (Tastefully Offensive)

06 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/6/13)

(I overlooked this last week due to the holiday, so we'll have one today and one next Friday to get back on schedule...)

I've had this one in the back of my mind for a long time, but I'd never been able to find a decent clip of it. Someone finally obliged me by uploading this a few months ago. I'm betting very few of you have ever heard of this band, let alone heard this song, "Love and Loneliness" by The Motors:

The Motors were a British band that popped up around the same time as a bunch of other artists from the UK in the late 1970s (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Joe Jackson). When it became apparent that new wave as a music genre had staying power, record company executives scrambled to sign whatever performers they could find that were unfamiliar on this side of the Atlantic.

While this isn't much of a video, it serves the song well. The LP it came from, called Tenement Steps, had an unusual cover with a black-and-white graphic of steps. The upper left and lower right corners of the cover were cut off intentionally to blend in with the graphic. I still have a copy of this album, and I've been thinking it may be time to consider trying to sell some of my old LPs.

04 December 2013

Perhaps I Can Interest You in Some Fine Merchandise?

In the past I've written about selling stuff on eBay, and occasionally suggested that some of you might be interested in what I have for sale. I've ramped my selling activity back up this fall; over the past month I've sold three pieces of outerwear and a pair of boots.

Since Christmas is approaching, it seems like an opportune time to list as many items as I can. At the moment there are only two listings, a vintage wool-blend coat from Brooks Brothers and a 1960s Accutron watch (this one), but I will be adding items pretty much every day until I've exhausted the sellable stuff around here. Please have a look at my listings here. Thanks.

03 December 2013

Turkey, Revisited

I know Thanksgiving is behind us, but if you're a fan of the animated comedy Bob's Burgers and/or the band The National, then you'll probably enjoy this:

02 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sightings #13 & 14

Sometimes I'm able to get only one picture of a car, so for today I thought I'd combine two of those into one post.

There are a lot of old Cadillacs being used as daily drivers around here. Some of them belong to seniors and have been babied since new; others have been used hard. They are easy to overlook, but also easy to notice if you're looking for them. These two cars are only a few years apart, but they look quite different.
I spotted this early-'90s Sedan DeVille at the Wellington T station one day as I was boarding a bus. I got this picture from my seat, and tried to get a shot of the front end as the bus drove past, but that one didn't come out well enough to use. From where it was parked, I think it may belong to an MBTA official.

These DeVilles were somewhat unpopular when they appeared for 1985, because General Motors switched them (along with platform cousins, full-size Buicks and Oldsmobiles) to front-wheel-drive. They were roomier inside and rode better, but buyers disdained them because they looked small. The Cadillacs got a wheelbase stretch for 1989 that made them look somewhat more Cadillac-like. Based on the exterior trim details and wheel covers, this one is probably a '91 or '92. While I think it's a nice-looking car, the squared-off, upright styling is very '80s and already looked dated by the time this car was sold.
For contrast, this DeVille is from a little later in the '90s. It's definitely less dated-looking, but not necessarily more attractive. To my eyes it looks bloated, and the closed rear fender openings don't help. This was another styling cue shared with big Oldsmobiles of the same period, as well as the Chevrolet Caprice. It was used from 1994 to '96, which is as precise as I can get.

I'm sure you noticed this car is parked in a handicap spot. I look for older cars like this in the spaces closest to the entrances of supermarkets and other stores. (This one was at the Market Basket in Chelsea.) Years ago I found two 1980s-era Dodges parked next to each other outside my local Stop & Shop. I took pictures, but then mistakenly erased the memory card they were on, and I'm still bummed about it.