31 July 2014

Someone's at the Door

When our doorbell rings and I'm not expecting takeout, I almost never answer the door, because it generally turns out to be either religious folks, political folks, or salespeople. I have a small advantage in that one of the windows in our living room looks directly onto the front porch and I can peek out and see whoever is standing there without them noticing me.

I figure it's easier for the caller to get no answer than for me to have to tell them I'm not interested in whatever has brought them to our door. Sometimes I wonder how successful any of these ventures are; the people hawking Verizon FIOS don't actually work for Verizon, but are subcontractors that add layers of complication to the process, and if I'm going to switch TV and internet providers I'll just go online and deal directly with the company.

Likewise, if I happened to be casting around for a new religion, would I really make that decision based on someone coming to my house? (Well, depending on my spirituality I suppose I might in fact consider it a sign of some sort.) As for political types, if it was a candidate going door to door to meet potential constituents, I might be interested in a conversation, but more typically it's just someone passing out literature that can be left for us to look at later.

29 July 2014

Car Stuff: Repair Shop Lot

I tend to be on watch for individual vehicles, but one day we were driving through Arlington and I spotted a repair shop with all sorts of old stuff parked in front of it. By the time I made my way back there on my own, at least one of the cars I'd seen that day was gone, but it was still worth the trip.
This 1977 Oldsmobile 98 sedan was parked facing a side street. It's is an interesting car to come across, as it's the first year of the greatly downsized full-size GM cars, and the improvements in efficiency with equivalent interior space were significant achievements at the time. This one is in outstanding condition and appears complete, though maybe it needs some mechanical attention. (Growing up I had a friend whose mother had one of these, in dark blue with a light blue vinyl top and matching light blue velour interior.)
This very rough Ford Econoline window van could be anywhere from a 1961 to a '67; there were no exterior changes during its run.
This Cadillac Sedan deVille, a 1966, was so big and had cars parked so close all around it that I could not get a shot with the whole car in the frame, plus it was further back into the lot and I didn't want to risk angering anyone. Behind it you can just make out the unmistakable shape of an AMC Pacer.
A 1980s Chevrolet Caprice appears to be someone's daily driver, since it has license plates and is parked on the street.
Here's a Dodge Coronet police car, either a 1975 or '76. It's still wearing official plates, which could mean it's being kept by the Boston Police Department. Behind the cruiser is a 1960s Dodge pickup.
That's a 1975 Chevrolet Malibu Classic coupe that looks like it needs only some wheel covers to hit the road.
And here's an early-'90s Ford Crown Victoria being moved, with another Caprice behind it in the lot. Seeing these cars, particularly the Olds 98, Malibu, and Coronet police car, got me wondering if any of them were in the process of being prepared for use in Black Mass, the Bulger film being shot around the area this summer. We'll have to wait until it comes out next year to find out.

28 July 2014

Last Week in Awesome (7/26/14)

You probably thought I wasn't doing it again this weekend, but I just forgot...

The New York Times has a tumblr that delves into their vast photography archives. (Cult of Mac)

Apparently some people still customize vans. (Hemmings)

I don't know how many people have wondered about the geography of Gotham City, but naturally there are maps. (Smithsonian via Transit Maps)

And finally last week, it can be a blessing and a curse: autocorrect. (Wired via Kempt)

26 July 2014

Retro Video Unit (7/25/14)

Sorry about that, yesterday was occupied by non-blog stuff.

Checking out all the new videos from Weird Al Yankovic over the past couple of weeks inevitably led to some of his older ones (and there was a good piece on Vulture last week where he talked about a bunch of them), which then led me to one of the original songs Al parodied, "Jeopardy" by the Greg Kihn Band:

23 July 2014

Grooming Garage: 3 to 5

For a long time I have maintained that there was no point in using a razor with more than three blades, so it's with some surprise that I find I'm now using five-blade razors.

It happened by accident: I ran out of blade cartridges for my Schick Hydro 3 handle. I went through my toiletry stuff to see what I might have that I could use that day, and found an unopened Hydro 5 razor that I think I'd gotten as a free bonus item in a shipment from drugstore.com. I used it and felt like it was an improvement over the three-blade version, and after two subsequent shaves I was still feeling that way. Since I had to buy more cartridges anyway it seemed like I might as well switch.

Then I found out that Schick offers a sensitive-skin version of the Hydro 5 cartridge. I guess the lotion is different or something, but for me it's even more comfortable than the regular version. The sensitive cartridges do cost a bit more than the regular ones, but for me it's worth it, and there are coupons for Schick products in the Sunday paper about once a month.

One other nice feature of both kinds of Hydro 5 cartridges that isn't offered on the Hydro 3 (or any other razor cartridge that I'm aware of) is the top part of the cartridge, the part above the blades that holds the lotion, flips back for trimming smaller areas like under my nose. The large head size was always one of my main issues with multi-blade cartridges, so that's no longer an issue.

22 July 2014

Back Seat Rider

Last week I needed to use Uber, and my ride turned out to be a previous-generation Audi A4. I have a friend who has one (actually it's an S4, the sportier version, but it's the same car) but I'd never been in the back seat of his car. A couple of months ago I used Uber and my ride was driving a previous-generation BMW 3-Series sedan, a car I'd never been in before.

Both of these cars are often bought by image-conscious people. Neither car is particularly large, but when I use UberX the front passenger seat is usually moved all the way forward to maximize rear seat room for a single passenger. I found the BMW's back seat to be much more cramped and much less comfortable overall than the Audi's. This isn't exactly a surprise, but it was interesting for me to be able to confirm it personally.

I also wonder how the newer generations of these cars compare to each other. I don't think anyone buys either car because of its rear-seat room, but even if people aren't driving for Uber, they must have passengers in their back seats sometimes.

21 July 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #9

It's time for another Fantasy Garage already? Well, recently I've written about moderately-sized personal cars like the Cougar and Barracuda, and I'd like to throw the Firebird into that discussion, but I'm going to hold off for now and swing back to something large and luxurious, because as I mentioned in my Matador article last week, that's still where the heart of the US car market was in the late 1960s (though a shift was underway).

I've already established that I have a thing for big four-door hardtops, which reached their style peak around the mid-to-late '60s before starting a slow fade from popularity. Among such cars, one of my favorites is the 1968 Chrysler 300. The "non-letter" 300 series was introduced in 1962 as a way to expand the expensive, limited production letter cars (like the 300F I started this series with) and bring some of their cachet to a broader, lower-priced lineup of models.
By 1966 the enormous 440 cubic-inch V8, the largest engine Chrysler Corporation produced, was standard on the 300 and other Chrysler models. (In later years many of these cars became engine donors for swaps into other Plymouth and Dodge models.) The 300 was the middle line, below the New Yorker but above the Newport Custom and Newport; its intent was to combine luxury with sportiness, which is part of why it appeals to me.

Another reason, probably the main one, is because it's one of the only four-door hardtops I'm aware of that came with standard bucket seats and an optional console at a time when four-door cars almost exclusively came with bench seats. (I believe this setup was also available on the Buick Wildcat, very much a GM counterpart to the 300, but it may be the only other one I know of; I've always been somewhat surprised that Pontiac didn't try offering a four-door hardtop version of the Grand Prix during the '60s.)
So why would I specifically choose a '68 300 (or "Three Hundred," as it appeared on the side of the car)? The final model years of 1969-'71 are nearly as appealing with their "fuselage" styling, and I'd probably be just as happy with one of those, but as is often the case, it's in the details. The body panels are identical to those of the '67, but the front end gained hidden headlights (always a bonus for me) with a red-trimmed grille dividing bar, and horizontal tail lights which I prefer to the vertical ones on the '67.

The sides of the car are fairly plain, but if you view the front end of the car from above it's heavily sculpted, with bladelike fender ends and a center peak; these are the sort of body details that started to get sanded away shortly afterward as car companies looked to reduce their engineering, design, and assembly costs. To me this car represents that period of transition at Chrysler and stands as a reminder of everything that had led up to it.

(Images from Old Car Brochures, as usual.)

20 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/19/14)

Right, let's take care of this weekend thing...

The Awkward Family Photos, um, family has grown since I last checked in. Of course, the original site is always worth a look, but maybe not after you've eaten.

Did you know some of the drones that regular folks can buy come equipped with cameras? (Yahoo Tech via Dronestagram & National Geographic)

And finally this week, a couple of articles about one of my favorite childhood toys: die-cast cars. (Hemmings blog; The Truth About Cars)

Too Quiet

Oh hi. So yeah, things were a little quiet and sparse around here the past few days. Life happens, you know? I'll be back later with TWiA.

17 July 2014

Facing Front

Look what I finally found backed into its driveway: the neighbor's red 1968 Camaro.
This car arrives each spring, presumably from storage, but is never, ever parked on the street (perfectly understandable) and is almost always pulled into the driveway front end first. Now it's been parked in this spot for a couple of days, which has me wondering if it's in need of repair.

It's also worth noting that this is not a Super Sport or Rally Sport model, but just a "basic" Camaro. The wheels and tires are not standard, and I have no idea what sort of engine is motivating it, but it's still nice to see an old muscle/pony car with a mostly original appearance.

15 July 2014


Yesterday the city installed a new utility pole adjacent to our driveway, next to the old one. Today the bucket trucks were back along with a blocked street and a police officer to guide motorists around the block. The officer told me yesterday that the utility companies needed to come to switch over the wires.

A little after 10 am the doorbell rang, and I figured it was related to the work. A worker was on the porch and informed me that the power would be shut off in about 20 minutes so the wire carrying electricity could be moved to the new pole, which could take up to 90 minutes. I hurriedly finished my breakfast so I would not have to open the refrigerator while the power was off, and shut off the air conditioners and my computer.

It took a while longer than the estimate before the shutoff occurred. I sat in the coolest room and read the newspaper and a book. It didn't get as warm inside as I'd expected, and power came back on after only about an hour. Fortunately it was not nearly as much of an inconvenience as it might have been on a day as humid as this one was.

14 July 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #28

Cars keep appearing for me to feature in this series. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a car in passing and make my way back, hoping it's still there. So far I've had about 50% success in those situations. A couple of months ago we were driving down Mystic Avenue in Medford and I spotted something old and beige sitting in an empty lot. A month or so later we were in the same area and the car was still there, so the Mrs. kindly turned around and went back so I could get these pictures.
American Motors Corporation was formed in 1954 when the companies that made the Nash and Hudson brand cars merged. Within three years both those makes were dead and the company focused on Nash's compact Rambler, expanding the brand to a line of compact and midsize cars as a deliberate strategy against the excesses of most other American carmakers in the late 1950s. During the mid- to late 1960s the Rambler name was gradually replaced by AMC as each model line was redesigned.

During this period AMC made respectable efforts to market cars that matched other companies' offerings. For 1968 the Javelin was introduced as a competitor to the Mustang, Camaro/Firebird, and Barracuda. For 1970 they fielded the Hornet, an attractive compact alternative to the Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet Nova, and Ford's new Maverick. Later that year, a shortened variant of the Hornet became the infamous Gremlin.
But in the early 1970s, the heart of the American car market was still (for the time being) large and midsized cars, which brings us to this 1973 AMC Matador sedan. Why it's been left in the corner of this property, which is going to be the future new home of a Volkswagen dealer moving from about half a mile down the street, we can only speculate. I'm not sure what used to be on this piece of land, but maybe this car had been stored there and had to be moved so a building could be demolished.

The Matador began as the AMC Rebel, which replaced the Rambler Classic for 1967. It was a very attractive car, but for 1970 the Rebel got a questionable restyle that, at least in the case of the four-door sedan, looked like the back half of a different car had been grafted to a Rebel's front half. (Compare it to this brochure pic of a '68 Rebel and you'll see what I mean.) For reasons I don't understand, the station wagons retained the rear doors that had also been used on the '67-'69 Rebel sedans, and thus ended up remaining the best-looking Matador model for the rest of its production run. (Here's a '74 Matador wagon to illustrate my point.)
For more reasons I don't understand (which is a phrase that comes up frequently when discussing AMC), the 1970 Rebel became the 1971 Matador with some minor changes to the front end that made it vaguely less disjointed-looking. It would have made far more sense to rename the car for '70 along with the redesign, but it didn't happen that way. The Matador would see one more restyling for '74 (mainly to meet the federal bumper requirements) and would hang around through the '78 model year before finally being taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery.

AMC had almost as many lives as a cat, but there was no happy ending, except for Jeep, which AMC had purchased in 1970. Chrysler Corporation, a company that also knew a few things about second and third acts, purchased all of AMC's stock in 1987 for the bargain-basement price of $1.5 billion, mainly to obtain the Jeep brand and products, which worked out pretty well for Chrysler.

13 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/12/14)

Well, the sun hasn't gone down yet... it was a busier than normal weekend.

The YouTube channel Music Vault has thousands of concert performances available to watch. (Boy Genius Report)

Vintage Boston subway maps are always worth looking at. (Transit Maps)

Ever see a poster for a movie and feel like it looks really familiar? You're not wrong. (Mentorless via The A.V. Club)

And finally this week, an interesting article on the state of crossword puzzles in the age of apps. (The Atlantic)

11 July 2014

Retro Video Unit (7/11/14)

I heard this while ordering food this afternoon, and sometimes that's how they get chosen, nothing more to it: Echo and the Bunnymen, "Lips Like Sugar."

(Housekeeping edit: how do people feel about this new default size for YouTube videos?)

10 July 2014

New Clothing Shouldn't Smell Weird

I just realized I never relayed this weird incident: I've been trying not to buy things, but a couple of months ago I found something I've been after for a long time: a dark gray chambray shirt that's not a work shirt but styled like a casual shirt with a button-down collar and a single pocket. It was at Old Navy and was only $16, so I bought it online, along with another item from Gap.

When the shirt arrived, I immediately noticed it had a weird smell, not necessarily a bad smell, but something you shouldn't smell from a new garment. It was a chemical smell, or possibly petroleum-based; I could never pin it down definitively. The Mrs. said to her it smelled like mildew, but my nose wasn't getting that, and there was no visible evidence to support either conclusion. I ran it through the wash and hung it up to dry. I went downstairs the next day to get it, and the smell was still there, so a couple of days later I washed it again with no change.

I left it hanging in the basement for a while and periodically checked it, but the smell remained. I thought perhaps our scent-free detergent was not strong enough to eradicate the smell, so a couple of weeks later I took a walk to a nearby laundromat and bought a single-load package of Tide from the vending machine. Tide's scent is so strong I figured it could take care of anything. Same process, same result: as the Tide smell faded away, I could tell the original smell was still there, though it did seem like it may have been a little less noticeable.

I had used only about half of the Tide, so I ran more water in the washing machine, added the detergent, and let the shirt soak for several hours before running another wash cycle. When I hung it up all I could smell was Tide. I stayed away from it for a couple of days, but by then the Tide had faded away again, and there was no change in the shirt's smell. I reasoned that it had to be a component of the dye, or some other aspect of the production process.

This was much more effort than I had ever had to make to remove a smell from clothing, and I decided I had done enough. As much as I wanted to keep the shirt, I had no choice but to return it. Curiously, it had disappeared from the Old Navy site around the time my order arrived, so I was unable to return it for an exchange. At the store a clerk checked the inventory and found two in the same size, but in New York state somewhere. It wasn't worth it to me to pursue another one. I think I just wasn't meant to have that particular shirt, and so the search continues...

Monday, 7/14: After I got a comment on this post, I realized that I had left out part of the story. Two people suggested soaking the shirt in a baking soda and water mixture, so after all the washings did not help, I did soak the shirt, but unfortunately that effort did not help either.

08 July 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #8

In my previous Fantasy Garage post I touched on the enormous success of the Mustang as it related to the Mercury Cougar. I've never found Mustangs all that exciting and probably wouldn't want to own one, but I do find some of the Mustang's competition appealing. It took GM more than two years after the introduction of the Mustang to get its response, the Camaro and Firebird, to market, but in the spring of 1964 Chrysler had a small, sporty car on sale a few weeks before the debut of the Mustang.

The Plymouth Barracuda wasn't nearly as successful as the Mustang, largely because from the waist down it was still a lowly compact Valiant; a fastback roofline with a large, curved rear window were the only visual differences between it and a Valiant two-door hardtop. It was still a good move, but compared to a Mustang it wasn't going to excite anyone. (I was looking for sales figures but couldn't find them readily.)
Both the Valiant and Barracuda were redesigned for 1967, and Plymouth wisely gave the Barracuda its own sheet metal, though one look at the dashboard made it clear it was still Valiant-based. Also new for '67 were coupe and convertible body styles along with the fastback, just like Mustang offered. Consequently, Valiant lost its hardtop and convertible models, while its Dodge cousin the Dart retained them; for '70, Dodge got the Challenger, its own variant of the Barracuda, and a year later Plymouth regained a Valiant hardtop, the Scamp.

Most people are into the beefier and more muscle-oriented 1970-74 Barracudas, but I'm not most people; I'd much rather have a 1967-'69 model, in particular a convertible. The '67-'69 styling is much more appealing to me. It's clean and trim, with none of the bloat that was coming to define the entire industry by the early 1970s.
I spotted this one in traffic a couple of months ago while we were out on a nice Sunday in the spring, but it was partially blocked by other vehicles so not much of it is visible. From the rear styling I think it's a '67. (Those wheels and side moldings are not original.)

Several of Chrysler's big V8 engines were available (some only in special packages), but I'd prefer my hypothetical car to have the plain old 318, which for '68 replaced the 273 as the smallest V8 available. It's capable of providing more than enough power for a car of this size without the penalty of horrific gas mileage. Whether for a modestly trimmed Barracuda intended for everyday driving when new or for present-day weekend cruising, the 318 would be a much more sensible engine choice.
Identifying the specific model year is tricky, as the grille and tail light changes were very minor, so the easiest thing to do, as noted previously, is look for side marker lights, or the lack of them. Small, round side marker lights? It's a '68. Rectangular ones? '69. None? '67.

One other cool note: in '69 Dodge and Plymouth offered an appearance package on certain models, including the Barracuda coupe, called Mod Top, which featured vinyl tops in floral patterns and matching fabric on the seats and door panels. These are quite rare but very groovy-looking.

(Top image from Wikipedia; bottom from The Truth About Cars.)

07 July 2014


My brain is still in holiday-weekend mode.
We had a bit of serious weather around here this evening (no damage or anything).
I'm immersed in a good book.

All of which are alternate ways of saying: there will be a new Car Stuff entry, but I won't get to it until tomorrow.

06 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/5/14)

This is another one that kind of stretches back to last week, but I hadn't found enough interesting stuff yet...

I don't know if anyone will care enough to follow these rules, but I like that someone made the effort to express them. (Wired)

I've often wondered how the American accent diverged from the British accent, but the answer was not what I was expecting. (Live Science via Dappered)

I managed to miss the whole Trapper Keeper thing, but regardless of your age, you can now get a facsimile of one to cover your tablet. (Esquire Style Blog)

The US Geological Survey created an online map exploration tool that's pretty neat. (boston dot com)

And finally this week, another map, but this one is of an imaginary land known as "where all movies take place." (Electric Literature via The A.V. Club)

03 July 2014

Awareness Is Important

I don't want to bum anyone out as we head into a long holiday weekend, but sometimes serious things need to be considered. As so often happens online, I was looking at something that led me to something else, which is how I became aware of a smartphone app called Cruelty Cutter. Scan a product's bar code and the app tells you whether or not the company tests on animals.

I admit this is a concern that has not been on my radar. I try to be aware of companies' ethical policies and environmental records, but I hadn't given any thought to animal testing, and as a dog owner I definitely should be. We rescued a dog that was raced, but thousands of other dogs suffer more unpleasant conditions for the benefit of corporate profits.

The app's web page has a graphic showing over 60 companies that do test on animals. Unsurprisingly, some of the largest consumer-product companies in the world are listed; chances are there's something in your house that was tested on animals. There are a couple of surprises here: I always thought of Neutrogena as a company with higher principles. And I certainly raised an eyebrow at Iams, a PET FOOD company, but then I learned it's part of Procter & Gamble, which made it less surprising.

Naturally this prompted a review of the products we buy and use. We have Arm & Hammer laundry detergent and toothpaste, and Lysol cleaning products; I use Old Spice antiperspirant and shower soap and Listerine breath strips. In some cases I buy the generic equivalent of a product (Target's mouthwash is less than half the price of Listerine), but I don't yet know if it's cruelty-free or not. Sometimes generics are manufactured in the same factories as the branded products using the same ingredients.

With most of these products, we can make or already have made a substitution. The main issue from a consumer point of view is that in most cases it ends up costing more. Target carries Seventh Generation products at much better prices than Whole Foods or anywhere else I've seen them. A few months ago we decided to try 7G's dish soap because we had a coupon. It lasts just as long and works just as well as whatever we were buying before, so we have continued to buy it. Trader Joe's now has its own-brand equivalent to Tom's toothpaste that is cheaper.

We have a large quantity of Arm & Hammer laundry detergent because it's frequently on sale; recently, by using a coupon during a sale at Stop & Shop, I was able to get two bottles of it for $1. But there will come a point when we need to buy more, and there are options: Seventh Generation and Method, though both of those are more costly. Costco's Kirkland line is much more economical, but I'll need to check it with the app.

I also need to find substitutes for my soap and antiperspirant. For a long time Tom's offered only deodorants, but now they have an antiperspirant, and it's available unscented, so I will be trying that soon. I've bought Target's shower soap many times, but again I will need to check it with the app. Zest is another possibility. Oh, and there's also the Listerine breath strips, which I find much more convenient to carry than mints. There are generic equivalents, but they taste terrible.

There are a couple of important takeaways here: marketing is both pervasive and insidious, and companies are not going to make consumers aware of information that they would rather we not know; it's up to us to find out. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty about the products you buy and use, but I sincerely hope you will give this issue some thought.

Addendum: I should note that the Cruelty Cutter app is $2.99, but purchasing it helps fund the not-for-profit Beagle Freedom Project.

01 July 2014

Community Lives!

One of my favorite TV shows, the NBC comedy Community, got canceled in May, at the end of its fifth season. A joke made during season two, when a character expressed a desire for "six seasons and a movie" (the show was quite meta and self-referential, and this particular character seemed to know he was a character on a TV show) had become a rallying cry for fans, who believed the show would make it to six seasons.

The show's primary production company pledged to try to find another outlet to keep it going, and for a while it looked like Hulu was going to sign on to show new episodes, but no deal was reached. I had given up, and thus was very surprised when I heard yesterday that Yahoo had agreed to stream a sixth season online. It was pretty close to the wire, because if a deal had not been completed by yesterday the cast would have been released from their contracts, and when they start lining up other jobs it's much more difficult to bring them all back together again.

The deal also ensures that the show's creator, Dan Harmon, will be on board as showrunner. Yahoo says it plans to start streaming the new season (which will be 13 episodes, just like its last two on NBC) some time this fall, which means the writers are going to have to get to work pretty quickly. But even though the episodes will stream online, production is likely to proceed in a manner like that of a show produced for a broadcast network or cable channel, with new episodes appearing weekly rather than the all-at-once approach of Netflix.

I'm excited, because I was not ready to let go of Community yet. Now, about that movie...