30 April 2014

Work in Progress

I was downtown last Friday and got a look at the construction activity on the old Filene's site:
I took this picture from the corner of Franklin and Hawley Streets. Hawley is the street that runs "behind" the site, between Washington and Arch Streets. At the far left you can see the Macy's building in the background. The area in the foreground, just behind the safety fencing, is what used to be called Shoppers' Park, that wedge of space along Franklin where there were large circular planters with benches ringing them.

One thing that I'm not clear about: this building seems to be set back much more than the old one was. I don't know if there will eventually be a larger parcel of open space there, or if another, lower portion of the building is going to be constructed closer to the fencing.

Update: To satisfy my own curiosity I dug around a little, and the revamping of the old Filene's "Burnham Building" is what we're looking at in the picture above, but that's only one part of the project, the part where the retail will go. The much larger portion (56 stories, 625 feet), where the residential units will be, is going to be built in front of this structure, so while its footprint isn't that large, it makes up for it in height. Those areas covered by yellow are where the two buildings will be connected eventually.

29 April 2014

Style Don't: Jacket Required

I've used AdBlock Plus in my web browser for some time, but there are certain sites for which I allow exceptions. Generally these are sites that I visit regularly and that I also know are operated by an individual who is relying on the revenue generated from ad views and clicks for part of their income, such as Universal Hub, Curbside Classic, and Dappered. (I don't have ads appearing here because there isn't enough traffic to generate any meaningful real-world revenue.)

Naturally, the ads on these sites tend to be related to their content. But yesterday while I was visiting Dappered, I noticed an ad in the right sidebar for a menswear product so appallingly heinous I had to click on it, and now I'm going to make you look at it too:
These abominations are known as "jacketless tuxedos," and the person responsible for this idea should be fired, then forced to wear only these items of clothing every day for the rest of his/her life.

Let's be clear: this is not a tuxedo. This is an excuse for a tuxedo, the "I couldn't be bothered" alternative. This is what nearly two decades of "business casual" and the tech industry's lazy, hoodie-and-flip-flop non-aesthetic has wrought and foisted upon the clueless and feckless men of this country. And here comes Jos. A. Bank to take advantage of that while making it worse...

There are a couple of circumstances in which I could see this not being a style foul: if you are seven years old and are making your First Communion, I think this would constitute an acceptable outfit (in an age-appropriate smaller size, of course). And maybe, MAYBE (but I admit I'm not 100% in favor of it) I could see this as a prom outfit in certain situations, like if most/all the guys in the class were planning to dress more casually for the event.

But really, that's just it: this is a very juvenile outfit, the sort of thing you see on young boys. Once you reach about age sixteen, there are certain events for which you need to be properly dressed, full stop. And that means a suit with a jacket, or in some cases a tuxedo with a jacket. Because technically this is not a tuxedo; it's a pair of pants and a matching vest, which we will henceforth refer to as a "fauxedo," or perhaps a "broxedo."

Now, I have nothing against vests. I like vests, in appropriate settings, which only include formal events like proms and wedding parties when worn under a jacket, not in lieu of a jacket. Guys: if you're getting married or going to prom, man up and wear what you are supposed to. Your mate/date will certainly appreciate the effort.

PS: Shit, I never even got around to the part about how long ties are not appropriate with tuxedos. You know what? Never mind, I can't. This has been enough for today already...

28 April 2014

Car Stuff: Look-Alikes, Part 2

Last week I looked at the overall shape of several mid-size and large sedans. Today we're going to look specifically at rear views of the same six cars, in the same order. (All cars are 2014 models unless otherwise stated.)

Ford Fusion:
2015 Hyundai Sonata:
Nissan Altima:
2015 Chrysler 200:
Chevrolet Impala:
Toyota Avalon:
(All the images of the white cars with blank backgrounds are from Edmunds; the Sonata is from Hyundai's website; the 200 is from Autoblog.)

There's a lot more shaping in real panels than there used to be, both in the way the rear of a car meets the rest of the body, and on the rear area itself. A lot of this has to do with aerodynamics (shaping a vehicle to minimize wind resistance results in improved fuel economy), and some of it is functional (trunk lid openings are cut lower for easier access), but much of it is merely decorative, and some of ti seems to be there just for the sake of being there, as though today's car designers are uncomfortable with simpler, less busy surfaces.

But all of those fussy lines and shapes don't amount to distinctive designs (not to my eyes, at least). There is a disappointing sameness to the appearance of these cars; everything is overly generic, or overly stylized but not in a good way.

All the logo badges are in the same place, right at top center; all the license plate openings are in the same place (you used to see some of them lower, in the bumper itself, but that practice seems to be a victim of bumper shaping); all the tail lights except the Altima's extend laterally into the trunk lids; and in almost every case the model and trim badges are in the same locations: again the Altima bucks the trend by having its badges mounted at the top of the trunk lid instead of the bottom, though there is what appears to be some sort of engine badge down below; the Impala is devoid of badges but has its model name stamped more subtly into the chrome piece across the middle.

As someone who has been into cars since early childhood, I find these developments disappointing. It used to be easy to tell one kind of car from another, but that's getting more difficult, even for someone like me who pays attention to, and appreciates, all the little details.

27 April 2014

This Week in Awesome (4/26/14)

I know the posts were a bit sparse around here this past week, but even though I'm still not working full-time, I still have other stuff going on that sometimes intrudes on my free time. This coming week should be better (no promises, though).

You want a time-lapse? How about a time-lapse of the aurora borealis? (Vimeo via Boy Genius Report)

Here's a nice piece on the under-appreciated work of John Waters. (Refinery29 via Dappered)

Trying to rank things invites criticism and controversy, but lists are still fun: this one is about TV shows based on movies. (Rolling Stone via TV Tattle)

And finally this week, a website that will show you a randomly selected YouTube clip that no one has ever watched (meaning, you'll be the first). (Gizmodo via Yahoo Tech)

24 April 2014

CharlieCard Secrets

After the MBTA switched to its current payment system, I was issued a special pass that looks like a regular CharlieCard but has my photo on the other side.

Over the past few months I've been having minor issues with getting the card to read properly when I board a bus. (I've never had a problem going through a fare gate in a subway station.) I thought it could be that the card was simply getting old and the sensor had somehow weakened, or that it was some other, more obscure reason.

Bus drivers observe me struggling to get the card to register until I give up and pull it out of my wallet, even though the readers are generally capable if reading it through one thin layer of leather. Rarely a driver will break the silence and offer a bit of advice that turns out to be genuinely useful.

On my own I figured out that the chip in the card is near the top of my wallet, but I didn't know until a driver told me that moving the card (and my wallet) more slowly toward and over the reader would help read it on the first pass.

Likewise, I didn't know until today that the reader is located on the right side of the pad. I have a tendency to hold my wallet near the middle of the pad, which probably explains why I've been having problems getting my card to read properly. And this knowledge would also end up being a benefit to the drivers if they shared it more readily with passengers, because faster card reading means faster boarding overall.

22 April 2014

Car Stuff: Look-Alikes

I took yesterday off from blogging. I know it's only a holiday in Massachusetts, but I knew I was going to need some prep time for this post.

Back before the oil crises of the 1970s sent American car manufacturers running for cover and forced them to reinvent the way they designed and built cars, it was easier to identify cars by make and model with just a quick glance. Now, fuel economy standards require cars to be more aerodynamic, which has led to more steeply raked windshields in front and more fastback-like rooflines in back, to the point where the appearance of cars is starting to become more homogeneous, particularly in the sedan category.

Designers are putting more effort into establishing a unifying design language that plants a similarly-styled corporate "face" on all the models offered by a particular brand (think of BMW's twin "kidneys," Kia's top-and-bottom chrome "teeth," Lincoln's split "wings," or Lexus's "spindle" shape), which is great if you are looking at a car head-on, but from the side it's getting more difficult to tell one car from another, and from the rear many cars now have tail lights with similar shapes. (The advent of LED technology for vehicle lighting means tail lights look more distinctive when they are lit at night, but that's not necessarily evident in the daytime.) At the same time, safety concerns have led to raised door sills (there's a lot of stuff packed inside those doors), resulting in reduced glass area and making passenger compartments appear more "squished down" from the outside.

Let me show you a few examples. This is a Ford Fusion, a midsize car that has been quite popular, selling around 300,000 units last year:
(Photo from Ford's website)

And this is the redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata, another popular midsize car that competes with the Fusion. This version was introduced last week at the New York Auto Show and will go on sale later this year:
(Photo from Hyundai via Autoblog)

Here's another popular midsize sedan, the Nissan Altima:
(Photo from Nissan's website)

And one more newly redesigned model that's not on sale yet, the Chrysler 200:
(Photo from Chrysler via Autoblog)

To me, the Chrysler looks most like the Fusion, but compared to the chrome-trimmed turd it's replacing, it looks fantastic, and the early first-drive reviews have been quite favorable.

Here is a Chevrolet Impala, which is a bit larger than all of the above cars but has many of the same styling elements:
(Photo from Chevrolet's website)

And here is a Toyota Avalon, which is a direct competitor to the Impala:
(Photo from Toyota's website)

See what I'm getting at? The designs are aggressive and modern, but they all kind of look the same. And more subjectively, I don't care for such swoopy rooflines on sedans. I miss more defined trunk lids.

Next time we'll look at tail light shapes, using these same vehicles as examples.

(Credit where it's due: this post was directly inspired by this one on Curbside Classic.)

19 April 2014

This Week in Awesome (4/19/14)

We have a busy weekend ahead of us, so I want to take care of this before I forget...

The source of this (a real-estate blog) is unexpected, but it's interesting just the same. (Movoto via The A.V. Club)

You may have seen this building and wondered how stable it really is; in hindsight, "more so than it used to be" is not exactly comforting. (Note that the text glosses over exactly how it was reinforced, but I think the audio may cover it.) (99% Invisible via The Verge)

Not exactly awesome but still worth reading: seemingly the most prolonged death spiral of a major retailer that I can recall. Could it have been avoided? Possibly, if this guy wasn't in charge. (Salon)

And finally this week, This is another of those "if you're of at least a certain age..." stories about a strangely wonderful pop-culture artifact from the late-1970s/early-'80s period, but the good part is that it's filled with YouTube clips for the benefit of those who are too young to remember, and as the article points out, the shows are readily available if you have cable. (Vulture)

Retro Video Unit (4/18/14)

Sticking with the '80s for now, in part because there's plenty of good material: "Let's Dance" by David Bowie, from the 1983 album of the same name. This is one of those videos that anyone who spent any amount of time watching MTV during its early golden years (see what I did there?) undoubtedly saw, probably repeatedly.

I've always been a big fan of David Bowie, and maybe this album isn't as artistically relevant as some of his other material, but as a pop-music document of its time, it has held up well.

18 April 2014

Overheard: Class Notes Edition

On Wednesday afternoon I was listening to a conversation between two men who happened to be waiting for the bus with me, who clearly knew each other but seemingly not that well. Both were about a decade older than me, and I think they might have just gotten off work at the Stop & Shop because we were across the street from it (which would also explain their acquaintance).

At one point one of the men said to the other, "You went to [area Catholic high school]? I went to [area Catholic high school]! How come I don't remember you?" (The eventual answer was that he was a few years older than the other guy, and we all know how little attention seniors pay to underclassmen.)

The bus came, we all got on, and their conversation continued, turning to mutually remembered classmates. Of one person, one asked the other if he was in touch regularly and the other responded, "Ah, him I mostly see at, you know, wakes and funerals."

Then the second asked, "Do you remember ______? Blonde hair, tough as nails? Used to think, she's probably gonna end up in jail? Know what she ended up doin'? US marshal."

16 April 2014

Watch Wednesday Follow-Up: In Need of Service

A little over a year ago I bought a Seiko solar chronograph as a "treat myself" bonus for shoveling a lot of snow last winter. I really liked the watch and wore it a lot. In fact, it became pretty much my #1 everyday choice.

A couple of months ago I noticed that the watch had stopped. This was surprising, since it's powered by light and I always leave it where it's exposed to plenty. Holding it up to a light bulb got it going again, and everything was fine. But it kept happening, and finally a couple of weeks ago it stopped and wouldn't restart at all.

The watch came with a three-year warranty, but obtaining service requires sending the watch to Seiko's only US service facility in New Jersey, so off it will go. I hope it can be fixed.

15 April 2014

Doggie Delicacies

As our dog has gotten older, her appetite has decreased. We've taken to adding enticing things to her regular food to try to get her to eat more. To the plain yogurt we've always given her (for coat and digestion), we've added chicken broth and cheese, and now I'm making scrambled eggs to crumble up and mix in with the rest. I don't think I've ever cooked scrambled eggs for myself, but my dog is basically getting a kibble omelet...

14 April 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #25

Sometimes unusual cars show up at odd places and times. A month or so ago, when it was still quite cold, the Mrs. needed to do a mundane errand on a Sunday afternoon. I decided to go along for the ride and to get out of the house for a while, which prompted her to suggest we entertain the dog by taking her for the ride.
That meant I would have to walk the dog around the parking lot while the Mrs. took care of her task, instead of just waiting in the car. But if I hadn't gotten out of the car in that parking lot, I would not have spotted this totally '80s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Check out the T-tops! And those wheels! (I wonder if the headlights are stuck in the open position?)
Back then, this was absolutely the ultimate car to have for a certain type of macho dude, who probably also had a substantial mustache and a Members Only jacket. I'm not being critical; that's just how it was. I have no idea what sort of person owns this car now, but the owner does seem to be making an effort to keep it clean and in good condition, which made it all the more surprising that it was out on the road in late winter.
The third-generation Firebird (and its cousin the Chevy Camaro) was made for 11 model years, from 1982-92. Changes during that time were fairly minimal compared to the changes the car had received every couple of years during the 1970s. I can say that this car is at least a 1985, as that's when the louvers appeared in the hood. And if you look closely at the back of the car, you can make out the center brake light under the spoiler, making this at least a 1987 (cars first got these lights for 1986, but for that year only, Firebirds had theirs at the outside top of the rear window), or possibly an '88 or '89; it's also possible it's a '90, though that was a shortened production year. (A redesigned front appeared on the 1991 models.)

13 April 2014

This Week in Awesome (4/12/14)

All right, I've got a big bag of internet and I'm eager to share it with you...

Twin Peaks fans: this one's for you. (The A.V. Club)

We all know that the presence of people of color on the major TV networks' programming does not really reflect our society (though it's certainly better than it used to be), but if you've ever wondered just exactly how it breaks down, I have some statistics for you, presented in a convenient visual format. (The Awl)

The punk band Fugazi hasn't performed in over a decade, but there's a vast archive of its live shows that it has been digitizing and offering for sale online. (The Verge)

Staying with music, this is one of those "old thing in context of same spot in present day" features that websites love to do, this one involving album cover photos. (The Guardian via The A.V. Club)

I was too young to have any awareness of the 1964 World's Fair, but it's one of those events in our country's cultural history that, in hindsight, turned out to be a key inflection point. (The New York Times)

And finally this week, in honor of Mad Men Day (finally!), a couple of bits of amusement: a promo for The Simpsons that mocks the frustrating, information- and context-free nature of AMC's end-of-episode "next week on Mad Men" bits (Splitsider); and a somewhat more elaborate spoof in the form of an extended trailer for an imaginary blaxploitation version of MM that I would totally watch (NSFW/K, language). (Slate via TV Tattle)

10 April 2014

Proved Wrong

A few weeks back I noted the "normcore" thing going on in fashion, and predicted that the New York Times Style section would do a piece on it in six months, when it was already over. I'm a bit behind on my newspaper reading, but in perusing last week's Style section I found there was just such an article. (I believe I read that the Times recently appointed a new fashion editor, who may be responsible for the improved response time in covering trends like this.)

08 April 2014

Catching Up

I know there was no TWiA last weekend. We were busier than usual and I hadn't gathered much decent material for it during the week, plus Comcast did their "watch all the HBO stuff you want free online this week only" thing again. I decided to watch the first two seasons of Veep, which is an outstanding show and I'm really glad I did, but it took up a lot of time that I might otherwise have been spending online looking for interesting stuff for TWiA.

Then on Sunday we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was excellent, really just as good as The Avengers. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I will say that plenty of significant stuff happens that will directly impact next year's Avengers sequel and the rest of the Marvel universe. And Guardians of the Galaxy, which is part of that universe and comes out in August, looks just ridiculous in the best possible way.

07 April 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #5

I've been attempting to execute this feature in chronological order, and I started with 1960 because I've always had more affection for cars of the '60s and '70s than for older ones. But I knew that at some point I would come up with a car from the '50s that I wanted to include, and I finally remembered it so now my attempt at order it messed up, and that's just how the middle-aged brain works.

After the end of World War II, the car companies rushed to restart civilian auto production, but they had to make do with warmed-over versions of existing designs from before the war. The first American company to put a completely new design into production was Studebaker (a company whose heritage went back to making wagons in the mid-1800s but would end up not surviving the 1960s). Being smaller than the Big Three actually made them more nimble and, in this instance, better able to get a new design into production more quickly. That car went on sale for the 1947 model year, ahead of the competition by a year or more.
But the car I'm interested in is the version that came later, for 1953. Its design is extremely advanced for the time: it's remarkably low compared to other cars of the period, and has a fresh simplicity that mostly wouldn't find its way to offerings from other American car companies for another decade.

As beautiful as these cars were and are, they were plagued with production problems, and Studebaker seems to have done everything possible to sabotage its chances to succeed. This article from Curbside Classic has more photos and offers a good overview of what was going on within the company that would soon lead to an ill-fated merger with the dying Packard, and to the company's complete demise by 1966. But I still want one in my fantasy garage.

(Image from hemmings.com)

04 April 2014

Retro Video Unit (4/4/14)

After the INXS video two weeks ago, I started to think about what other groups' videos I've overlooked. Eurythmics was one of the top groups in the early days of MTV, and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" is a good example of a relatively early music video. (I also have always had a thing for song titles with parentheses in them, and for women in menswear.)

Anyone besides me see a resemblance between early '80s Annie Lennox and Christina Hendricks?

03 April 2014

Springtime Walkin'

Back in October I mentioned the Chippewa-made boots I wanted from L.L. Bean. I did get a couple of Bean gift cards for Christmas, and by combining those with a couple of $10 rewards from my credit card, I was able to get them with only a very small contribution from my own pocket. I got to wear them once during the winter, after January's snow had melted but before February's had fallen. Now that the snow is gone completely I've been able to wear them a few more times and I think they are a really nice product.

Interestingly, I had tried on a slightly different version of the boots a few years back in a Bean store and found that they ran small, but the reviews of this version indicated that they ran true to size or perhaps even a little large, so I ordered 10.5, which is down half a size from what I normally wear in athletic shoes. I may have been able to get away with size 10, but I still prefer having room up front.

The extra space would also be useful for insoles, but so far I haven't felt like I need them in these boots. The cushioning in the insoles is quite good and they have been comfortable to walk in. I imagine the rubber soles and the inner layer of cork contribute to that comfort as well.

The uppers are oiled leather and they have picked up a few stray marks so far, but in some cases those can be "erased" by rubbing the area around the mark to redistribute the oils. I do wish there were speed hooks at the top instead of eyelets all the way up (I believe the version of this boot that J. Crew is selling has speed hooks), but I think I could have them added by a cobbler and I may do so.
This picture in direct sunlight shows the burgundy color very well. Indoors it's a bit more subtle and tends to appear brown, but I tend to prefer subtle, and I like the small bit of contrast provided by the natural-color welt. The welt construction makes these resoleable and thus a better value.

01 April 2014

Overheard: Poor Grasp of Spanish Edition

Over the weekend at a bar in Salem, while sitting adjacent to the bar, this was overheard between a bartender and one of a group that appeared to be regulars:

"...so we'll be doing that for Cinco de Mayo."
"When's Cinco de Mayo?"