30 December 2014

Processing Your Request...

Yesterday I went and poked around in Macy's downtown, something I do only a couple of times a year these days. I figured after Christmas was a good time to go and see what might be on sale.

At one point I wanted to know what the final sale price of an item would come out to, so I went in search of a price scanner. Remember the fuss about those? It was probably close to a decade ago that the state required stores to install them as a means of ensuring consumers had access to accurate price information.

I went in search of a scanner, which seemed to be less common than they once were on the main floor at Macy's. When I found one, it was stuck on the "processing your request..." screen, with no apparent way to escape from it. I walked around the floor some more and found another scanner, which was displaying some sort of error message. There was a box to click "OK" just like on a computer screen, and since I'm now accustomed to touch screens I touched it.

I didn't think the scanners were set up to respond to touch input, but this one did something and eventually displayed what looked very much like a standard Windows operating system desktop, only much smaller and with only three or four icons. None of those appeared to grant access to the magic price-scanning function, so I again moved on.

I found two other scanners displaying their version of the Windows desktop, and never did find a working scanner, so at that point I gave up and left. So much for consumer assistance...

29 December 2014

Car Stuff: Oddities

Today was supposed to have a new Fantasy Garage, but my brain is still in holiday-week mode so I'm choosing to postpone it until next week. I saw a purple Ferrari this afternoon but it passed too quickly for me to get a photo. It got me thinking about other weird and unusual cars that I've come across. I have been able to get pics of some of them, so I might as well start posting those.
I was in Medford Square on a Saturday afternoon a couple of months ago when I spotted this. It's a Toyota Yaris, which is the smallest, least expensive Toyota. It's understandable if you've never seen one, as I don't think Toyota sells a lot of them in this country compared to its other models. If you have seen one, chances are it was the four-door version, which sells better. Subcompact two-door hatchbacks are nearly extinct in the US (Hyundai has dropped the two-door Accent, which competes directly with this car), unless they are specialty models like the Mini Cooper (and even Mini has given in and started offering a four-door version of the Cooper).

I thought it was a little odd that someone would get a car with such a low starting price and then spend money on aftermarket wheels. There was a time when most cars came with wheel covers, and if you wanted your ride to look sportier you bought a set of chrome wheels for it. Today almost all cars come with alloy rims, though it seems the Yaris may be an exception to that. And after looking at this photo more closely, I think these may in fact be wheel covers, of the sort you can get at Pep Boys or Advance Auto Parts, and which would cost a lot less than alloy rims. So I stand corrected; whatever the reasons for choosing the Yaris (certainly not looks), thrift does seem to have been a factor.

27 December 2014

Retro Video Unit (12/26/14)

Well, no video of The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" has surfaced in the past year (not that I thought it would, but you never know), so I dug around and came up with a couple of other original Christmas songs by rock acts.

First, The Kinks with "Father Christmas," a typically cynical and Kinkian take on the holiday:

And for something maybe just a bit happier, though still with a tinge of melancholy, "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders (with an introduction from a British TV show):

24 December 2014

Weird Weather

We're having some strange weather for this time of year in New England. Along with steady rain the temperatures have climbed above 60 through the day and evening, and will be holding overnight and into Christmas Day.

It feels strange that it's so warm at Christmas, but by New Years Eve it will be back down to the 20s.

Merry Christmas, if that's your jam. I'll be taking a brief break from posting until we're back home, so maybe Friday night or Saturday?

23 December 2014

Today's Wish

Someday I will live in a home where, when I shave in the shower, the hot water will last for as long as I need it.

22 December 2014

Car Stuff: The '80s Called

I spotted this old clunker just a couple of weeks ago. I was over on Broadway in Somerville to get a haircut, right near where the Mrs. and I lived from 1995 to 2006. It was also snowing a little, which you can kind of tell from the photo.
The car is a Ford LTD Crown Victoria station wagon. When this generation was introduced as a 1979 model, it was still called just LTD, but by 1983 Ford had decided to use that name for its Fairmont-based midsize car, so the fullsize got the CV tag added. The revised grille also appeared for '83, so this car can't be any older than that, but I don't think they offered a non-wood-trimmed version until '84. It stayed around for at least a few model years, so it's from somewhere in the mid-1980s.

Seeing it parked in the otherwise empty convenience store parking lot, I got a vibe off it that it has been owned by the same person since new. Obviously I have no way of knowing that, but I can make up stuff to go along with these photos if I want to. Also, I cropped it less than I typically would, because I just liked how it looked in front of the triple decker.

21 December 2014

This Week in Awesome (12/20/14)

This may or may not be the last TWiA of the year. Things do tend to slow down on the internet around this point, so we'll just have to see how it goes this week...

Remember all those high-profile flops from the earlyish days of the web? Well, maybe some of them weren't such bad ideas after all. (Wired via Kempt)

Vulture presents its choices for the 20 best comedy sketches of the year.

Drone photography is now a thing, to the extent that someone has chosen the year's best drone photos. (Yahoo Tech via Dronestagram)

Did you watch the last episode of The Colbert Report and wonder who some of the folks were in the big sing-along? (There were 100.) Talking Points Memo has you covered with screen grabs and IDs.

If your smartphone gets stolen, what exactly happens to it? This is quite interesting. (Wired)

And finally this week, Darlene Love has been singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (one of my favorite Christmas songs) on David Letterman's shows since 1986. Vanity Fair talked with her and Paul Shaffer, who helped inaugurate the tradition, about how it came about and what it's been like; the article includes YouTube clips of some of her appearances over the years. And since Letterman is retiring this May, Love appeared on the Late Show Friday night to sing the song one last time. (And no offense to U2, but when I think of this song, it's always Ms. Love's voice I hear.)

19 December 2014

The Lineup

Three interpretations of the style known as the service boot:
From left, the Wolverine 1000 Mile in rust; the L.L. Bean (made by Chippewa) Katahdin Iron Works engineer boot in cordovan (color, not leather); and the Frye Arkansas in black. All of these are made in USA.

The Wolverines, with their leather soles, are probably the "dressiest" of the three; the color works in their favor for that too. The Beans are the most work boot-like, and I find it a little odd that they don't have any speed hooks. The Fryes split the difference with a welt that matches both the leather and the sole; I wore them with wool trousers and a tweed sportcoat last Friday night.

I still wear my Caterpillar work boots more than any of these, probably because they are made for walking and standing, and they are the easiest to put on and take off.

18 December 2014

Medford Christmas Decorating

Hey there... the day sort of got away from me. Have you ever sat around trying to remember the administrator password for an old Mac you no longer use? It's not a productive way to spend any portion of your day.

However, I was more successful at printing the recipients' addresses of our holiday cards on their envelopes with my current computer and printer, something I've never even attempted before this year. They came out well; the printing is where it's supposed to be on the envelopes, and the lines of type are straight. This is largely due to the new printer, which has a handy guide slot that can be adjusted to the width of any envelope. Also of note: we are actually sending cards this year, after years of neglect in this area.
So I thought I'd just toss out a couple of photos I took the other night of some of the Christmas decorations near our house. This group of four adjacent houses is on the other side of our street just west of us. All of these houses always have some outside decorations, and while I don't know if they coordinate their efforts, the "cluster effect" benefits all of them.
This garage is on the corner opposite our street where it meets the Fellsway, and it's where I took photos of the Pontiac LeMans convertible (which is still there, parked behind the tow truck, almost a year after appearing). This is the first time they've done this, so I was pleased to see it for the first time about a week ago when getting off the bus on my way home one evening. It didn't take a genius to come up with this but it's clever and festive, plus I think there's something quintessentially Boston about it.

17 December 2014

Snack Time

I saw these at the store and curiosity got the better of me. I wanted sour cream and onion but they didn't have them, so I figured I was justified in buying these.
Technically there's no bacon listed in the ingredients, only "natural flavors," and the maple is from maple sugar. What they actually taste like is barbecue chips without any spiciness—there's some sweetness and some smokiness, and that's about it. Not bad, certainly, but not exactly as advertised.

16 December 2014

More or Less

I enjoy my tech gadgets, but I'm not usually the person who has to have the thing before everyone else. When I get a new phone, I don't load up on all the extras at the phone store. I prefer to wait and see what my needs are, and maybe I'll happen to read about an interesting product that's being funded through Kickstarter (which is how I ended up with my Elevation Dock).

I've never had a car charger for my iPhone. I don't drive, and most of the time we're in the car, we aren't going more than a few miles from home, and I don't use the phone to stream music or anything like that. But lately I've noticed that using Google Maps in the car, even just to check traffic conditions, puts a heavy drain on the phone's battery, and during our last couple of overnight trips to Rhode Island my battery was below 15% by the time we got home, so I thought it might be a good idea to get a car charger.

I figured the Apple-branded charger would be overpriced and I wasn't wrong, so I started looking at some of the other accessory brands that have been making Apple-compatible products for a while. I looked through some products when I happened to be at a Staples and found that most of the car chargers they were selling were priced at $25 to $30. I didn't want to buy a no-name piece of junk, but I didn't want to spend that much if I could avoid it.

I looked through some websites and noticed that Target was offering free shipping on any order. They had a Belkin charger for $13 but it was sold out online. I could order it to pick up at a store but the one closest to us didn't have them in stock, so I chose the store in Somerville near Union Square since I could get there on my own without too much difficulty.

When I went to the store yesterday I needed to get a couple of other things, and before going to pay I happened to pass the area with iPhone accessories. I was very surprised to see that the item I ordered was priced at $34.99. I'd already paid for mine online and it was being held for me at customer service, but if I'd just decided to go to the store without looking online first, I never would have known about the lower price.

It's surprising that this far into the life of the internet and the maturity of e-commerce this kind of pricing disparity still comes up as often as it does. You should never assume that in-store prices and online prices will match, and you also can't assume that one will consistently be lower than the other.

15 December 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #33

Today's pictures come to us courtesy of my friend in Kentucky, who also spotted the Willys I featured back in September. His lunchtime walks take him past an auto repair shop that frequently has old and interesting vehicles parked outside.

Last year I featured a 1980s Chevy El Camino that belongs to a friend of a friend. The only competitor the El Camino ever had here was the Ford Ranchero, so now I've covered an entire vehicle category, the so-called car-trucks.
Ford stopped building the Ranchero in 1979, while General Motors kept making El Caminos (and a GMC version, the Caballero) until 1987. I still see El Caminos around here, but I can't remember the last time I saw a Ranchero outside of a car show, so this one is interesting because of their relative scarcity, even if it isn't in great condition.
This one is from the final 1977-79 generation, and as you can see was burdened with rather unattractive styling. I don't remember ever seeing one with these wide side moldings even when they were new, though I did find one other photo online that suggests they are factory trim pieces. Rancheros could also be ordered with wood side trim like the station wagons of the period; this was briefly offered on El Caminos during the mid-'70s (naturally).
Because these were built on the same platform as other Ford and Mercury cars, the front clips are interchangeable, and I have seen Rancheros wearing the front end of a Mercury Cougar or Ford Thunderbird from the 1977-79 model years. The Thunderbird clip is especially interesting as it had hidden headlights, but either one is an improvement.

14 December 2014

Retro Video Unit (12/12/14... ish)

We were in RI for a family event Friday night and stayed over. Today was mostly taken up by the football game and preparing my TV column for The Longfellow Bridge. So I forgot this was a video week, but I figured I might as well post one anyway...

Big Audio Dynamite is a band I should have featured a long time ago. It's the band Mick Jones formed after being told by Joe Strummer that The Clash didn't need him anymore. As it turned out, Jones was much better off being shown the door than being involved in that embarrassing final album.

With its mix of street beats and spaghetti-Western twang in both the music and the musicians' outfits, as a band BAD shouldn't have worked, and if Jones wasn't involved I don't think it would have. "The Bottom Line" was the first single from their first album. I don't understand this video at all, but I like it. Plus when's the last time you saw anyone playing a Steinberger bass?

And now I'm going to go look for their CDs on half dot com...

11 December 2014

Funny Pages

I've been reading comic strips online for a long time now. There are a couple of sites for the companies that distribute the strips, and a site for a big-city newspaper like the Chicago Tribune covers the rest. (The Boston Globe has an online comics page, but it doesn't carry all the strips I read.)

I've noticed that the pages for individual comic strips accept comments, and this strikes me as pointless. Clearly I don't know what I'm talking about, because people leave comments on these pages. But what I find really disturbing is that these comments treat the contents of a given day's strip as though it's something that happened in real life.

Do you get what I'm saying? People read these comic strips online, then post comments about what happens in the strips AS THOUGH THEY'RE REAL. As though cartoon drawings of people—or worse, animals that can talk—are depictions of actual events. I find this deeply troubling. It's unhealthy, to say the least, and suggests difficulty in distinguishing reality from fantasy. Or maybe the real reason it bothers me is because it's a complete waste of time.

10 December 2014

Watch Wednesday (12/10/14)

In late October I sold a vintage watch on eBay for about three times what I'd paid for it back in 2003 or so, well above what I was expecting to get. I wish I had more old watches that were that valuable (a couple might be, but I don't want to sell them).

Anyway, I didn't splurge on anything (besides rent), but I'd happened to spot a watch on the Timex website that I liked, and being me I figured I could find one for less on eBay. I did, and it only took a couple of days. It was all of $25. (It's $44 on the Timex website.)
It's from their Expedition series but it struck me as a nice variation on the military-style watches that have been popular for the past five years or so. You know, like the Timexes that J. Crew used to sell for $150 (and have since lowered to a still-too-hgh $98). Then Timex came out with the Weekenders on one-piece nylon straps that you can get for about $35 at Target, and those are okay, but they aren't especially rugged and don't have a date function.

This watch is beefier. At 40 mm diameter it's a better size for my wrist, and its case has more heft to it. It just feels more sturdy. I also liked the matte finish case in a gunmetal color, a bit different from the usual silver. (This watch is also available in a matte silver case with the black dial and a white second hand, or a matte black case with a beige dial and black hands.)

I do not love yellow, so I do not love the yellow second hand, but I do like that it's a different color than the rest of the watch's markings—contrast is better, that's another reason why I didn't want the silver-case version. Timex makes other watches that use this same shape second hand in other colors, like orange and red. If I could come across one of those cheaply enough, I might consider having the hand switched out. (Yes, I do tend to get somewhat carried away with this stuff...)

Of course, I had to change the strap. It came with a two-piece version of a nylon NATO strap in olive green. (In case anyone's wondering, the beige-faced version comes on a brown strap and the silver case version on a tan strap.) It was a little long for my wrist, and didn't feel substantial enough for the watch it was on. I first tried one of the kind that looks like carbon fiber but is actually leather, but it was so stiff that even after I'd shaped it to my wrist it was too uncomfortable to wear. The strap in this photo is from a site called Crown & Buckle that sells plenty of NATO straps at pretty reasonable prices, and also carries leather straps that they make, or have made for them.

This one is a fabric that resembles canvas; I've also seen this type of fabric described as sailcloth. The back is leather, it's about 4 mm thick and is soft and sort of squishy. I think it goes well with the overall rugged appearance of the watch. I might at some point put this watch on a tan leather strap with white contrast stitching, because I think that would look good too.

(Side note: all the time I was doing this watch feature regularly, I struggled to take photos that were close enough to show the details of the watch faces and still in focus. It wasn't until a couple of months ago, when I was preparing the eBay listing for the vintage watch, that I finally realized that as long as it's in focus, an image can be made to appear larger and closer-up by cropping it, which I've done here.)

09 December 2014

Someone's in My Way... Again

Today was not a fun day to be outside around here. There was heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour, I believe. But eBay beckoned and I had to drop a package at the post office. A rather large package, in fact, so I had to employ a couple of plastic bags to protect it from getting wet.

I also had to stop at the supermarket on my way home, which was my own fault—I could have gone yesterday when I didn't have anything else going on and it was cold but not raining. I caught a bus at Wellington and figured I'd have about a 10-minute window to run into the store and get back to the bus stop for my bus.

As usual, everything was fine until I got to the checkout. There was a woman ahead of me who seemed to be having a mental block as to how to slide her debit card through the machine. In fact, she said so, just so we all knew what was happening. She went on her way, I paid for my things, took a moment to organize them in the bag I'd used to carry the package, and turned toward the exit, where I found her again in front of me, stopped, with her cart blocking the door as she leaned over to pick up some sort of flyer.

Eventually she realized someone was behind her, and looked back at me and apologized. She moved on to the outer door, where she again stopped, looked out at the rain, and said, "Oh boy, would you look at that? It's really coming down." I said, "Yes, and now I have to run across the street and try to catch the bus, so could you please step aside?" She looked confused, but I didn't stick around for any other reaction because I didn't have time, and I was done with her.

But as I hurried across the parking lot, a monologue continued in my head, as it often does: If you could just withdraw from your bubble of self-involvement for a moment and realize that you're not the only person trying to leave the store, that would be great.

08 December 2014

Car Stuff: Remember These?

Just a quick one this week from my stash of random photos: a 1998 or '99 Isuzu Trooper, still doing troop duty for one of the families in our neighborhood.
This generation's 12-year run ended in 2002, but for a while in the early to mid 1990s these were everywhere around greater Boston and eastern Massachusetts; I knew a couple of coworkers who had them. They seemed pretty rugged but Isuzu's limited resources meant they were unable to keep pace with more refined, carlike vehicles like the Ford Explorer. By the time they got this vehicle's replacement to market, no one cared anymore.

(Don't worry about the snow in the pic; this is from last winter.)

07 December 2014

This Week in Awesome (12/6/14)

TWiA didn't happen again last week, blame it on the holiday weekend I guess. I'll try to make up for it with a larger-than-usual portion of interweb stuff...

Ugly sweaters are now officially a "thing," to the point where the NFL is trying to sell team versions. As soon as something goes from hipster-ironic to a greedy attempt to cash in, it's over. (Esquire Style Blog)

Two fascinating people have a conversation, and you'll want to see it. Wasn't there a TV series like this a while back? (Filmmaker magazine via Dappered)

No time-lapse, but how about some eerie drone footage from over Chernobyl? (io9)

Oh wait, I guess there is a time-lapse after all. (Vimeo; music in the first half may not be to everyone's taste)

Since it's the Christmas season, read about how the famous Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet came about. (Yahoo via Kempt)

And finally this week, anyone who's ever worked retail will be able to relate to at least some of this, but as to the specific company being discussed, these stories are beyond appalling. I continue to wonder how they are still in business. (SB Nation via Valet)

06 December 2014

Really Big Show

I saw Interstellar tonight, in IMAX. I'm still digesting the movie, but I'll say that the last 30 minutes or so do require some pretty heavy suspension of disbelief, but that's not necessarily meant as a negative. Technically it's deeply impressive, not quite in the same league as last year's Gravity but still with plenty of striking shots and moments.

This was my first time seeing a movie at the Assembly Row IMAX theater, and I was a little underwhelmed, especially considering the ticket price ($17.50). The screen is only maybe 50% as large as the one at Jordan's in Reading, and there were a few times during the movie when the music was loud enough to obscure dialogue. Now that could just be how the movie's sound was mixed, or it could have something to do with the IMAX sound system.

I will say that the stadium seating lets you go up about four rows from the entry aisle and be vertically at the middle of the screen's height, which I find is ideal for seeing IMAX movies. And if you go to one of the earlier showings in the day it's cheaper; I think the first two shows are $12. (I just checked and for comparison, all the shows at Jordan's are $12.75.) If you can't get to Reading and you don't want to go downtown the IMAX at AMC Assembly Row is a decent option: it's T accessible, the theaters are clean, and the staff is pleasant. But with IMAX, I've found that bigger is better, plus you can get Richardson's ice cream in Reading.

04 December 2014

For Want of a Bookstore

I've gone downtown to do errands three out of four days this week. Monday I needed to go to the bank, and yesterday and today I had to drop off packages on their way to people who bought stuff I'd listed on eBay. (Being able to print the postage at home is great, no waiting in line at the post office—as long as said post office has an automated package center with the big drop bin.)

Of all the jobs I've had, I only worked downtown for a few months once, but I've spent plenty of time around there over the years. In recent years though, not so much, so sometimes when I walk around it seems like things have changed more dramatically than they perhaps seem to others who are around there more regularly.

For example, yesterday it occurred to me that since the Borders closed a few years ago, there is no general bookstore. There's the Brattle Book Shop and Commonwealth Books, but both deal in used books. It's really sad and unfortunate that the area couldn't seem to sustain a bookstore.

But as has happened in other cities, Downtown Crossing is seeing an influx of residential units in both new construction and redevelopment of existing buildings. In a few years there will be at least a couple thousand people living in the area, and perhaps then it will make sense for the return of a bookstore as an amenity residents will want.

02 December 2014

Grocery Checkout Gauntlet

This afternoon I made a quick run to the market. We have two Stop & Shops to choose from; one is smaller but a little closer, so when it's nice out I'll usually walk to that one. But since it was cold I decided to catch the bus down to the bigger one. If I know what I need and I'm getting only a few things I can usually get my stuff and get out of the store in time to catch the same bus as it's coming back on the northbound run of the route, after it goes into Wellington and comes back out again.

That did happen today, but I barely made it. As I was waiting for the bus to pull over so I could get off, the bus driver said to me, "you made good time." I replied, "It mostly depends on what happens when I get to the register." That's where things get iffy.

There always seems to be someone ahead of me who's buying only three or four items, but for whatever reason their checkout takes multiple minutes. Or I get stuck behind one of the few dozen people who still clings to paying for groceries by check. Or the cashier has too much cash in the drawer and has to make a drop to a manager. Or, as happened today, after the checkout I got stuck behind a cluster of people lugging grocery carts, in no hurry to get to the exit, and without enough room for me to go around them.

I know I'm impatient, but it's 35 minutes between buses, and sometimes when I've bought groceries, I just don't feel like walking home with them. I try to be considerate of other people's time, but the reverse never seems to happen.

01 December 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #14

Even though the American car companies offered compact cars starting with the 1960 models, and filled in the gap with midsize cars a few years later, the carmakers held onto the idea that their full-size cars defined and represented them well into the 1970s. And while the large cars were often the standard-bearers for styling and design trends, even before the first oil crisis in 1973 plenty of people did not need or want a full-size car.

For many buyers midsize models often represented a sweet spot in terms of exterior size and interior room: not too much of the former, not too little of the latter. The midsize models of the mid-to-late 1960s were roughly the same size in overall length and weight, and were equipped with engines of roughly the same or greater size and power output, as the standard cars of 10 to 15 years earlier. (It would have been interesting to see how the American car market developed if full-size cars hadn't kept getting bigger well into the 1970s, but that's a tangent I'll leave for another time.)

As the 1960s rolled into the 1970s, the bloat of full-size models began to afflict midsize cars as well. By 1974, when the federal government required all new cars to have bumpers capable of withstanding a 5-mph impact, the length of a midsize car ranged from about 206" (for a Chevrolet Malibu two-door) to 215" (for a Ford Torino four-door), during a period when two-door and four-door body styles were typically built on different wheelbase lengths; people bought four-door cars because their back seats were roomier. (For comparison purposes, current midsize cars like a 2015 Honda Accord or Ford Fusion typically land at about 190-192 inches in overall length.)

But before that happened, midsize cars were still fairly sensibly sized and attractive. The convertibles and sporty two-door models like the Pontiac GTO and Dodge Coronet R/T tend to get the most attention from collectors, but today I'm going to express my appreciation and enthusiasm for a plain-Jane four-door sedan. Why? Watching TV shows like Adam-12 while growing up may have something to do with it, where it seemed like all the patrol cars were Plymouth Satellites or Dodge Coronets (later, when the LAPD inexplicably switched to AMC Matadors, the show did as well).
My particular choice is going to seem an odd one to a lot of people. I like all of the 1968-70 Satellites and Coronets (like the one I featured earlier this year), but what I'd choose for my fantasy garage is a 1970 Dodge Coronet 500 four-door sedan. For unexplainable reasons I love its scowling face, and I have since I first saw one in the parking lot of my elementary school in the early 1970s. The 500 was the highest trim level available for a Coronet in 1970, and I figure it would be more interesting to have one of those than a plain base model that would look like an old detective's car.

It's not too surprising that the internet isn't exactly bursting with images of these cars, but it is a little disappointing. Curbside Classic did a writeup on a '69 Coronet 440 sedan a couple of years back with a few good pictures of the car in question, but there isn't much else that would be useful here, so you'll just have to take my word for it.