28 November 2014

Retro Video Unit (11/28/14)

For some reason I was in the mood for something from 1979 tonight. This is from 1981 but it's close enough... The Cars, "Since You're Gone."

26 November 2014

November Sunset

I happened to look out the kitchen window (which faces roughly west) yesterday afternoon and saw the sky looking like this, so I grabbed my phone and went out on the back porch to get some shots of it.
The actual sunset looked much more pink-to-red to my eyes, so when all the images came out with more of a range of color I was surprised but not disappointed.

25 November 2014


Since before we moved to this house eight years ago, the upstairs apartment has been occupied by various unrelated single adults, some of whom moved on when their relationship status changed. This summer two of the three left, and the girlfriend of the third moved in. There were furniture purchases and other expected domestications.

Then about ten days ago I started noticing bits of holiday-related decoration appearing. There's a small window in the front wall of the house, about head-high, that lets light into the stairway going up to the second floor apartment. Vinyl lettering saying "Merry Christmas" showed up on that window, affixed to the inside. A couple of days later there was a package on the front porch addressed to the female upstairs resident. It was a doormat, and because it was wrapped in clear plastic I could see that it said "Wipe your merry feet." Indeed.

I grew up in a house where Christmas decorating was embraced enthusiastically, and I have friends who are equally merry, but I'm not used to seeing it so close by, or so early in the season. The majority of people in the neighborhood who do decorate seem to have an unspoken understanding that visible exterior decorations are not supposed to appear until after the Thanksgiving meal has been consumed.

On Sunday I went outside to get the paper and found that the window in the door leading to upstairs had been covered by a piece of holiday wrapping paper. It blocks the light that comes in through that small window and makes the vestibule dark, but at night when their stairway light is turned on it makes the paper glow warmly.

Last night when I took the dog out, I saw that a couple of rows of blinking lights had been strung on the second-floor porch railing. They were arranged in a straight line running around all three sides of the railing about halfway up it. There were white lights and blue lights (thankfully not those LED ones that emit a weird, artificial-looking light) but they weren't mixed together, and they'd been set up to blink in seemingly random patterns.

It struck me as something of a half-hearted effort, but perhaps it's only phase one in a larger light-show plan. It's still two days before Thanksgiving, so there's plenty of time for who knows what else to appear.

24 November 2014

Car Stuff: Bye Week

This is supposed to be a Fantasy Garage week, but I'm just too tired to start digging into that now. And since it's a holiday week anyway, I'm just going to go with this through-the-windshield shot I snagged at a traffic light near our house at dusk back in early September.
It's a Lincoln Town Car from the 1975-79 generation. I wish I'd been able to get a clearer shot, but I had only a few seconds so I'm lucky I got anything. It's interesting that there seem to be a lot of older Cadillacs around, at least ones from the 1980s, but by comparison I see far fewer older Lincolns. Maybe I'll cross paths with this car again and then I can do a fuller Random Sighting post on it.

23 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/22/14)

25 degrees yesterday morning, 65 (or possibly higher) tomorrow. Gotta love New England...

Have you ever seen a car chase in a movie and recognized the locations where it took place? (Motorpunk via Hemmings blog)

The caption says it all: Christmas just got weird. (The Chive via The Clearly Dope)

The song used in this video has been out for about eight months, but somehow I wasn't aware of it until I saw this. Obviously these people were not dancing to this song in the source clips, but whatever they were dancing to, it's still a strange sight. (Tastefully Offensive via The A.V. Club)

And finally this week, I try to avoid getting into political stuff, but this rather perfectly encapsulates the fundamental problem with the arguments against immigration policy. (Esquire)

22 November 2014

The Comfy Chairs

Went to the movies tonight (Big Hero 6—seems like I end up seeing more kids' movies than adults' movies lately) and experienced the overstuffed, reclining seats at the AMC Assembly Row theater. I have mixed feelings about them. There's the obvious danger of falling asleep; I didn't, but it's easy to imagine it happening if one was tired.

Also, my legs started to get crampy about halfway through the movie. I don't know if it's just because they were horizontal instead of vertical (being supported by the lower portion of the seat that unfolds as it reclines) or if it was a circulation thing, like what can happen on long plane flights. Overall I think I prefer the seats a bit further back in the theaters that are still thickly padded but don't recline.

20 November 2014

Feeding Patterns

We've been feeding the dog "human food" (chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, and spinach) mixed in with her kibble for a few months now, with definite success. She has gained back almost three pounds and is much more enthusiastic about her daily meals.

But roughly every 10 days or so she disdains her meal, even though she acts like she wants it. She pokes and nibbles at it for a few moments, then walks away. She'll usually come back to it a bit later and do the same thing again without really consuming any substantial amount of it. We have no idea why. We know she's hungry, and we know she likes what we're feeding her.

We tend to project our thoughts onto our pets because they can't express themselves to us in a way we can understand, so I find myself thinking things like: she's refusing to eat on purpose just to be difficult. Her unpredictability is what's perplexing to us because dogs tend to prefer very regular feeding patterns. But it is possible there are times when she just doesn't feel like eating, and given her advanced age that's probably what's happening. I also know that a couple of hours from now she'll be hungry, and will expect me to prepare her a fresh meal.

18 November 2014

Mailing Things

What is it that people do at the post office that takes so long? I waited in line for seven minutes today to drop off a package that already had postage on it. When I got in line only one of three windows had a clerk. A second appeared but was busy for some time with people who had already been to the window once and had been told to come back when they had completed paperwork.

A third guy was floating around in the back, then stepped forward to ask if anyone was waiting to pick up a package. Two people came forward and he helped them, then he asked again, said,"Well, I've done my duty," and disappeared.

This post office has slots for dropping off mail but they are narrow. My package was small but still too large to fit in the slot. I asked and learned that if a package is small enough and weighs less than 13 ounces, it can be dropped in a mailbox. That might have saved me a trip, though today I had to go to Medford Square anyway. Still, it's worth knowing about for possible future use.

As for knowing the weight, I recently acquired a scale, the kind people use to weigh food portions. It can measure up to 11 pounds, which is more than enough for my shipping needs.

17 November 2014

Car Stuff: Retro Rod

I spotted this restomod as we passed a gas station one day about six months ago and was able to get my phone up quickly enough to snap this one shot.
It's a 1955 Chevrolet, and normally I'd have cropped the image much closer to the car, but it's not super-sharp, probably because we were still moving, and looked blurry when cropped. Plus I think it looks better with some of the surroundings giving it context.

I thought this was a "sedan delivery," a rare body style that was basically a station wagon with a flat load floor behind the front seat and no side windows. But when I looked at this picture on my computer, I think the black paint is intended to disguise very dark tinted windows, and that this is in fact a two-door station wagon that the owner wants people to think is a sedan delivery. I wouldn't say it's wrong to do this, but why not just show off the car you have? It's still a '55 Chevy two-door wagon, a rare item on any day.

15 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/15/14)

It was a full, busy day, but damn it, I'm getting this up tonight...

Even with the current plethora of security features, there has always been something fascinating about the concept of counterfeiting currency. (GQ)

I tend to notice stuff in the background in movies, or at least I try to. (The Verge)

If there's anything to take away from this, it ought to be: do your own thing, don't follow the herd. (Washington Post via Esquire Style blog)

This is a thought exercise with no real purpose but some interesting results. (Nerdist)

And finally this week, for some time I've been enjoying looking back at a period in the area's history I was only around for the last few years of via Dirty Old Boston, which I first found as a blog on boston dot com. The brain trust at bdc did away with all the "community" blogs including DOB about eight months ago, but fortunately there's also a facebook page (which you don't have to belong to fb to view). The proprietor, Jim Botticelli, was compiling material for a book that was published earlier this month, so now there's a website for the book that also has a blog and an online store. Jim was interviewed this week on WBUR's "Radio Boston" and you can listen to the interview here.

Retro Video Unit (11/14/14)

I posted a clip from The Jam once before, about two and a half years ago, so I think it's okay to revisit them at this point. They were one of the most interesting UK bands of the new wave era: they had style, they had a distinctive sound, and there were only three members (okay, yeah, The Police were also a trio).

"In the City," the title song from their first album, encapsulates everything you need to know about the band. Singer/guitarist Paul Weller has had a varied and fairly prolific solo career, but keeps a relatively low profile.

13 November 2014

Coffee Break

I was thinking about coffee this morning, as mine was brewing. I don't think there are any other food items that I consume every single day. There's also beer, but there are occasional days when I don't drink a beer with my evening meal.

I was first introduced to coffee when I was around five, when my mother added a little to my milk. But I didn't start drinking it with any regularity until near the end of high school. That's also around the time I started visiting Dunkin' Donuts, which is when I discovered what half and half was. Cream was never used in our household, and I guess I had never noticed it in the grocery store either. If you haven't done a direct comparison, coffee with milk tastes markedly different from coffee with cream. (I don't use sugar, it's just more unnecessary calories and I think it ruins the taste of the coffee.)

In college my roommate had a coffee maker, and when I lived alone as a senior I acquired my first one. I couldn't even count how many of them I've had since, but it's probably at least a dozen. I remember a roommate in a house a couple of years out of college having one of the earliest Braun models that used the cone-shaped filters. I was struck by the thought that had gone into the various elements of the design. Of course I wanted one for myself and I did get one, eventually, but it was a few years later.

Around that same time I tried to develop a taste for drinking coffee black because it seemed like a cool thing to do. Aside from the harshness (which cream does an excellent job of mellowing) and the stomach discomfort, I found that with black coffee there was a very small window between "too hot" and "too cold" and I always ended up missing it, so that experiment was short-lived.

It's funny how some people never make coffee at home, and their only relationship to it is through their office or a coffee shop. I guess it goes along with trying to eat breakfast but I've always wanted the ability to have coffee before leaving the house. But there were times when that wasn't always the most convenient option.

In the mid-1980s I worked at the Harvard Coop, back when it was still an independent store that sold things like records, housewares, and non-university-logo clothing. I always worked Saturdays, and the bus I took to work during the week either didn't run on Saturdays or didn't run as frequently, meaning I would have had to get up significantly earlier (unthinkable in one's early 20s) or take a different route.

This also happened to be during the period when the Mass. Ave. bridge was being rebuilt, and as with the Longfellow Bridge now, there were traffic restrictions. The 1 bus had to be rerouted, and the alternate route took it through Kenmore Square, past BU's main campus, and across the BU bridge to Memorial Drive and eventually back to Mass. Ave.

Where I lived at the time, the 57 bus stopped right in front of our house, so on Saturday mornings I'd take that bus down into Kenmore, go into the old Dunkin' that used to be there (back when they still had counter service), get the recently-introduced Big One (20 ounces, which I think corresponds to their current large) for around $1.25, cross the square, and wait for the next 1 bus to come through.

Amazingly, the timing always seemed to work out perfectly, even during the winter. I think there was only one time when I had to forego the coffee and make the bus connection in front of Marsh Chapel in order to get to work on time. And getting that Saturday coffee was something of a treat, a reward for having to get up and go to work while others were sleeping in.

11 November 2014

Welcome to Your Nightmare

All right, so TWiA didn't happen again this past weekend. The timing would have been much better, since this thing only started banging around the web on Friday. Saving it until next weekend seems like it would be pointless, so for those of you who haven't encountered it already, Adult Swim slipped something extra weird into its already pretty weird late-night lineup.

It's called "Too Many Cooks." It starts out as sort of a spoof on a broad genre of 1980s and '90s sitcoms, and then it just, well... if any of you have seen Adam Scott's homages to '80s TV opening credit sequences, which also aired on Adult Swim under the banner of The Greatest Event in Television History, then you could argue that "Too Many Cooks" is kind of like if David Lynch made a GETH.

But it's more than that, too. I don't want to spoil it so I won't say anything else. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it's worth the 11 minutes of your time. If you do watch it, you may then want to read this interview with its creator (a veteran of other Adult Swim shows). And a lot more has been written about this bizarre but fascinating short: BuzzFeed, Salon, even Vanity Fair and The New Yorker weighed in on it.

10 November 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #32

Back in September I found myself in Arlington Center one day, looking for some used paperbacks at the used bookstore The Book Rack. I was unsuccessful, and on my way home I got stuck in a gap between buses on Boston Avenue in the vicinity of Tufts, so I decided to walk to where I could get a different bus. It turned out to be a fortuitous circumstance because I found three cars worth photographing during that walk, two of which I'm sharing today.
Along Boston Ave. there's an auto repair place, and those tend to be good places to spot interesting older cars. In fact, we had passed this place in the car and I'd caught a glimpse of this car, but didn't expect it to be there again several weeks later, but it was, which suggests to me that it may belong to one of the employees.
It's a 1971 Buick Skylark Gran Sport (GS), which was Buick's counterpart to its corporate cousins the Chevrolet Chevelle SS, Pontiac GTO, and Oldsmobile 4-4-2. The different models shared many mechanical components but had their own styling, interiors, and instrument panel designs. Back in '71 silver wasn't the ubiquitous color it is today, so this is an interesting sighting for that reason too. (Buick called this shade "platinum mist.") As with the '72 LeMans convertible near my house that I wrote about back in late March, production of '71 GS models was pretty low. The GS was available as either a hardtop like this or a convertible, each with three engine choices: a 350-cubic-inch V8, a 455-cubic-inch V8, or a higher-tune 'Stage 1" version of the 455. There was also a GSX package which added a spoiler and black striping on the hood and sides, so we know this isn't a GSX.
These iPhone pics don't have the resolution for me to be able to tell what the fender badge under the GS says, but it doesn't look like the Stage 1 badges I found online, so it's probably either 350 or 455. The production numbers on those were 5986 and 1481, respectively. I apologize for how the right edge of this got cut off; I was trying to avoid getting the car next to it in this shot. Once I realized what was parked next to the GS I took a separate pic of it, plus you can see it in the first two pics above.
The bonus car, which is surely owned by a senior citizen, is a Chrysler Imperial, which was made only from 1990-93. The Imperial name has a long and complicated history as part of Chrysler, starting in 1926. In its most significant period, from 1955-75, it was a separate brand, meant to sit at the top of Chrysler's brand hierarchy as a competitor to Cadillac and Lincoln. This car, however, was merely a New Yorker Fifth Avenue with different front and rear ends and a plusher interior.

07 November 2014

Printer Postcript

As a follow-up to last night's post about printers, I now have three old, decommissioned printers packed away in their boxes in the basement. The space they are taking up isn't crucial but could be used to store other things. I was pondering what to do with them and remembered that A Proper Bostonian told me a couple of years ago that Best Buy accepts electronic items for recycling at no cost, even if you didn't buy the item from them.

The information is fairly accessible on their website: at the top of the page under Services there is a link for Recycle Your Old Products. There are some restrictions, which vary by state. Here in Massachusetts you can recycle up to three computer items per household per day. We will be sending our old printers on to their next lives this weekend.

However you feel about Best Buy as a corporate entity, this is an extremely useful and environmentally beneficial service and they are to be commended for offering it. Most electronic products contain a high percentage of components that can be reused or made into other things, but the materials need to be directed to the proper facilities for this to happen. Keeping old junk out of landfills benefits all of us in the long run.

06 November 2014

Print Queue

I haven't had good luck with printers. I've had several over the past decade, and they seem to start getting problematic after only a couple of years. We had various issues with them that I don't even remember now, mainly ink issues and printing issues, and spending too much on ink.

In 2007 I bought a Mac mini that came with a free printer of my choice up to $100 valu, so I picked up a Canon inkjet. The frequency with which we had to buy replacement ink, and its cost, left us very unsatisfied. Kodak had come out with a line of inkjet printers that had significantly lower ink replacement costs, so we decided to get one of those. I bought that printer in 2010.

That printer really seemed to blow through ink too, and I didn't even use it that much. Eventually I read a story on Consumerist that said leaving a printer on standby rather than turning its power completely off would save ink, and the Mrs. pointed out that I could use the "draft" setting for print quality, something I hadn't even thought about. But this printer, too, became problematic, particularly after I upgraded my Mac to the latest version of the operating system a few weeks ago.

When I sell an item on eBay, I can purchase and print a postage label at home, and then just drop the package at a post office. But twice within a few weeks I purchased the label and was unable to print it. eBay lets sellers void a purchased label, but the refund takes 15 days for the postal service to process! When I sell an item I need to be able to reliably print a label so I can get the package out as quickly as possible. We decided we needed to replace the printer again.

This time I went to the library and spent half an hour going through the past year's issues of Consumer Reports to see which printer models they had tested and which ones they thought were a decent buy. I also looked at replacement costs for ink cartridges for the three major inkjet printer brands: HP, Epson, and Canon. Among CR's recommendations was an HP printer called the Envy 4500. The Envy models are sleeker than average, which appealed to my aesthetic sense. HP's ink costs are reasonable ($36 at Staples for a combo pack of black and color ink) and most retailers were selling it for about $80.

There was also a slightly nicer model with the same specs plus a two-tone black and silver finish and a larger color touch screen instead of a simpler LCD. That model was selling at most places for $100, but there was a Staples coupon in last Sunday's paper for 15% off one item, and being able to go to a nearby store and get one right away was preferable to having to wait for one to arrive from ordering online.

So we ended up with the Envy 5530. If you want to spend a little less you can get the 4500, which will perform the same. I've sold two items on eBay this week and the printer has done its job. It was easy to set up, it's quieter than our last one, and it prints more quickly. I'm hoping this one will last a little longer than two or three years.

05 November 2014

Overheard: Threat Assessment Edition

This afternoon I listened to a guy sitting behind me on the T have a phone conversation with his significant other that went generally along these lines: "You do not have ebola... how do I know? Because there are no confirmed cases of it in the state, or in any of the neighboring states... have you been in contact with anyone from West Africa? No, you haven't... you probably have the flu. If you're really that uneasy about it, go see your doctor... babe, I work in a hospital, it's my job to know these things... you are kind of a hypochondriac... you get sick a lot... it's not possible, you just don't have it..." and so on.

04 November 2014

The Voice

I hear my own voice talking to me inside my head frequently, but it rarely has anything useful to say...

03 November 2014

Car Stuff: Back to the '70s

I love street scenes, especially ones with lots of vintage cars on view. I grew up in Rhode Island and used to go on shopping trips "downcity" with my grandmother; by 1979 or so I was venturing into downtown Providence by myself on the bus to shop for clothes and records.

Conveniently, several images from the city of Providence's online photo gallery showed up on the Hemmings blog on Friday. I went to the city's website to see what else they had. It seems like these are all from no later than 1977 or so; it's hard to say exactly, but I don't think I see any cars newer than that year.
This shot is looking south on Dorrance Street (possibly from the old train station), with the western edge of Kennedy Plaza at the left and City Hall at the right. The white Mercedes S-class coming into the bottom of the frame is a bit of a surprise, but they were starting to make inroads into the market by the mid-'70s.
Looking at more or less the same spot but from down at street level, there's the Haven Brothers diner truck about to pull into its regular spot adjacent to City Hall. Food truck, old-school style. The blue car at the left is around a '73 Oldsmobile Delta 88; the black one is a Mercury Monarch, one of the newest cars I can spot in any of these pics.
From the same spot, a pivot to the right gives us this view looking west down Washington Street. The edge of City Hall is at the left, and just beyond the right edge of the frame is the Biltmore Hotel, which is still around. A Pinto! A Checker cab! Look at all those VW Beetles!
Back to the first photo, but the photographer moved a block south and turned back around looking north across the intersection of Dorrance and Westminster Streets. You can see that the building at the left in the top photo is the same one the camera is facing here. Check out that granny's pedestrian move. That old Plymouth is a bit unusual, even for this point in time. Behind it, going the other way, the black car looks to be a Chevy Monza, which came out in '75. And there's an old green RIPTA bus on the right.
Here the photographer has crossed Dorrance and turned around to look west down Westminster, which at the time was a pedestrian street closed to vehicle traffic for several blocks (and I'm pretty sure they stole the idea for that from Washington Street in Downtown Crossing). It makes sense that Old Stone Bank would have had a branch across the street from its competitor Hospital Trust. (Trivia: I spent the summer between high school and college working for Old Stone as a mail clerk in their operations center. They licensed Fred Flintstone to use as their mascot in commercials, and their ATM card was called Ready Freddy.)

Those two station wagons cruising past are basically the same car: the silver one is a 1972 or '73 Ford Gran Torino. The red one is a 1977 Mercury Cougar, which had previously been called the Montego and was made as a Cougar for one year only.
This photo is from a couple of blocks further south, along Pine Street looking across a parking lot (since replaced by a parking garage) at the Weybosset Street entrance to The Arcade, a National Historic Landmark building built in 1828. Behind it, and looming over downtown, is the old Industrial National Bank building, which many Rhode Islanders refer to as "the Superman building" because of its resemblance to the building used for the Daily Planet in the old Superman TV show. (Sadly, it now sits vacant and unused.) The green car is a first-generation VW Scirocco, extremely scarce now.
I realize there are no cars in this photo, which is at a point further west on the Westminster Street pedestrian mall. I included it because of the stores. Shepard's department store went bankrupt in 1974, but the building still stands (as does the clock) and today it houses the University of Rhode Island's continuing education department. Chess King! It's embarrassing to think about it now, but I did shop there for a while. And further back, with the red facade, is B. Dalton Bookseller, which eventually became part of Waldenbooks.

02 November 2014

This Week in Awesome (11/1/14)

Oh, TWiA, why can't I seem to stick to a regular schedule with you? Not to mention finding good stuff seems harder than it used to be...

This is from last week, but worth a look: Remember that band that did that song "You Get What You Give" in the late '90s? Ever wonder what happened to them? (The Hollywood Reporter via Dappered)

Sometimes the internet is just silly, but enjoyable anyway.

Video games have never been my thing, but I will admit to a touch of nostalgia for the arcades of my youth (where I mostly played pinball). That said, one could waste a whole lot of time here. (The Verge)

And finally this week, Prince was the musical guest on this weekend's Saturday Night Live, and he did not disappoint. I've always thought the guy was a musical genius, ever since I was first turned on to his music back in 1982 by my dorm RA. I didn't think this would be posted online, but I'm glad it is, and you will be too. (Hulu via Rolling Stone)

01 November 2014

Retro Video Unit (10/31/14)

(Damn it, I really meant to post this yesterday... when it was still Halloween.)

We had the smallest amount of trick-or-treaters in the nine Halloweens we've lived here; I think the doorbell rang three times. Anyway, this isn't specifically a Halloween song, but one that fits in well with its mood and tone and general aura of pervasive weirdness: "Nemesis" by Shriekback.

I miss these guys. I know they've released a couple of albums in recent years, but I haven't heard them and I kind of don't want to, because they just won't be the same. I saw them live twice, once at the old Avalon on Lansdowne Street (back when it was still called the Metro), and once at the Channel near South Station. You wouldn't necessarily think so from listening to their recordings, but they were an amazing live band, and Barry Andrews was everything you could want in a lead singer.