31 March 2015


So long, March. You weren't as bad as February, but you weren't great either. At least most of the snow has melted.

It's not surprising at all that such a severe winter would lead to such a cold March. Now I'm wondering what we can expect for April and May. I've put away my heavy-duty down parka and my insulated boots, but I'm keeping all my other options open for at least the next two or three weeks. It was warm enough today that I was able to wear a lighter jacket, but I still needed a hat and it was still chilly when I was waiting for the bus this afternoon, coming back from a couple of quick errands.

The transitional periods are the hardest ones to dress for, especially if you are leaving the house in the morning to go to work and not coming back until evening. Personally I would rather be a little bit cold in the early part of the day, rather than too warm later in the day. If I wear a coat or jacket, I hate if I end up having to carry it because it's too warm for it later.

By the way, it's supposed to reach the mid-60's on Friday (and rain, because we can't expect a warm day that's sunny too), but drop back to 30 by Easter morning. Dress accordingly...

30 March 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #36

The timing of a traffic light can make the difference between seeing a car and being able to get a picture or two of it. This has happened to me on at least two occasions while I was waiting for the bus on my corner.

The road the bus route runs on is a fairly major non-highway route that many people use to get through Medford to Somerville and Cambridge, which increases the odds of someone being out driving in something interesting when I happen to be waiting for the bus. When I commuted on a regular schedule I used to see a 1964 Chevrolet pass by at least once a month, but it was long before it occurred to me to start taking photos of cars.
On this particular day I had just enough time to get my phone out, so this is technically not a "full" Random Sighting, but I'm classifying it that way because it was definitely random. This is from last June, and it was more interesting to me because the car is a 1967 Pontiac LeMans and not, as I originally thought, a GTO. I wish I'd been closer, but from just these two pics I can tell this car is exceptionally well kept.
More LeMans hardtop coupes were probably made that year, but more GTOs probably survive today because of their performance-car status and higher value, so a stock LeMans is the car you're less likely to see, especially on the road and not at a car show.

28 March 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (3/27/15)

I thought about this yesterday, but it didn't enter my mind at all today until I was out walking the dog about 30 minutes ago. Sooooo... I've had Fleetwood Mac on the brain a bit lately, not least because of the impeccable, spot-on use of "The Chain" in a recent episode of The Americans (seriously, even if you haven't seen the show, take five minutes and watch the clip at the bottom of this article).

I was also thinking about the live performance of "Rhiannon" that I posted a while back from an appearance on The Midnight Special in the mid-1970s. I was hoping I'd be able to find that whole show but the Midnight clips on YouTube seem to be limited to individual songs, so I decided to look for other Fleetwood Mac concerts. This one is from 1982, in support of the album Mirage. And while you're watching, think about how unfair it is that Lindsey Buckingham has never really gotten the respect he deserves for his guitar talent.

26 March 2015

Economy Brushing

When did toothbrushes get so expensive? I guess I haven't needed to buy one in a while. I get one at the dentist twice a year, and I know I'm supposed to replace it after three months. I think for some reason I got two toothbrushes on my last visit, and maybe I've been using the second one longer than I'm supposed to, but it seems like I haven't purchased a toothbrush in at least a year.

I knew I needed to replace it, so when we went to Target the other night to get some household things I hit the "oral care" aisle. The basic brushes were around $4, and some were $5. There were also multi-brush store-brand packages that I didn't want.

Down near the floor, in a bin instead of hanging on pegs, I found single-pack store-brand brushes. They were kind of unattractive but had soft bristles, which is more important than appearance. They were about $1.50 each, which is what I had in mind. (I have a tendency to lock into what certain things cost 10 or 20 years ago and think it should continue to cost only that much.) They had clear handles with colored accents.

Later at home I went to open the package, and noticed on the back that the brush was made in USA. This is the sort of commodity item that I'd given up expecting to find still made domestically, and it's kind of interesting to me that the least expensive toothbrush is the one made here. I'm quite certain those $4 brushes are made in China.

24 March 2015

Trashy Matters

This winter's record snowfall posed multiple challenges, including not being able to put the trash cans out on the curb. The curb disappeared with the first blizzard in January, and while I usually attempt to keep a space cleared for a trash can or two, the volume of snow was too great and I had to abandon my standard procedure. Since the front of our house faces north, the area along the front sidewalk and curb gets the least amount of sun during the winter, so it takes much longer for the snowbanks in front to melt.

Also, before the first big storm I neglected to take the trash can out from where we store it under the back porch, and the door got blocked shut by a thick slab of ice from where melting snow drips off the roof, so we missed two weeks of trash pickup.

After I finally excavated the can, I had to put it at the end of our driveway each week, which in turn meant I would have to wait until the Mrs. had left for work. But her schedule is irregular, and I started to worry that the truck might come by before she had left. It got to where I was following her out the door on Monday mornings, rolling the can into place as soon as she'd driven away.

After several weeks of this, there has finally been enough melting so that yesterday morning there was a small space at the edge of the driveway that's wide enough to be out of the way of an entering or leaving car. And the forecast for this week has temperatures approaching 60 on Thursday, so perhaps the snow banks along the curb won't be around much longer.

23 March 2015

Car Stuff: Outside My Window

One Sunday morning last fall, I heard the distinctive idling of a large diesel engine out on the street in front of our house. I peeked outside and saw a tractor-trailer loaded with two classic cars. It's possible the driver was lost, or was checking directions, but the truck remained outside long enough for me to grab my phone and get a couple of shots.
Both cars were Mercury Capris from the early 1970s, so I kind of think they were on their way to a single destination. (It's not uncommon for vintage car purchases to come with a second parts car.) The Capri was a European model Ford, built in Germany, that was in many ways a continental interpretation of the original Mustang. (You can read a nice history of the Capri over at Curbside Classic.)
This is a car I've always liked. I knew someone in college who had owned one, but I never got to ride in it. They are somewhat scarce but not impossible to find, and definitely under the radar as far as the vintage car market is concerned. Wherever these two were going, I'm envious of the recipient.

20 March 2015

Retro Video Unit (3/20/15)

I signed up for Spotify a while back, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. The idea had occurred to me to create a playlist from all the songs I've posted since I started this feature almost four years ago. In going back through all the old posts, I discovered that there were two songs I had featured twice, and no one ever noticed, including me. That means that when I posted the video the second time, I completely didn't remember that it was one I'd used before. The brain ain't what it used to be...

Anyway, the playlist is available; if you have Spotify, search for Retro Audio Unit. I haven't quite gotten to see if there's a Blogger widget that will let me post the playlist on the blog, but at a minimum there's probably a way to link to it. (Update: link added over on the right.)

As for this week's selection (which will be added to the playlist by the time you read this), after watching the Synth Britannia documentary that I mentioned over the weekend, this seemed like a fairly obvious choice: "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League.

19 March 2015

Another Milestone

According to Blogger this is my 2,000th post. I don't usually pay much attention to the post count, but about a month ago I happened to notice it was getting close to this mark (which I guess is better than having it pass unnoticed).

The 1,000th post was about three and a half years ago. Since then life has chosen to unmoor me from my reasonably satisfying employment situation without providing a suitable replacement. There have been times I felt like giving up trying to find a new job, but I'm not going to do that, because I need to work and also because I need to win out over being dumped on by life.

Blogwise things are going all right. Over the past few months my visitor stats are up, and I was toying with the idea of implementing Google's ad program, but with the number of visitors I get in a typical week, I don't think it would yield a useful amount of income. I've also been thinking about some other types of features I might do, and some of those will be popping up, either on a trial basis or semi-regularly, in the weeks and months ahead.

When I started this thing back in '06 I did not have a clearly defined sense of what I wanted it to be, and that has turned out to be beneficial. Figuring it out as I went along was much better for me in terms of challenging myself to write frequently and regularly. Thank you to everyone who visits. Stick around, there's more to come...

Late Winter Fluctuations

So much for the thaw... it's heading down to about 15 degrees overnight, and the forecast says we're going to get a little snow Friday afternoon and evening. We've already managed to get enough snow to break the record, so anything more is just going to extend it. And, just like last Sunday, whatever snow does fall will melt right away because it's going to warm up again on Saturday.

We're in that phase of late winter where the weather bounces back and forth between more or less normal, and quick blasts of arctic air. It will definitely do this at least a couple more times between now and Easter. At least we've had enough sustained warmth and sunshine to melt ice and shrink snowbanks, making walking around a reasonable option again.

There is one drawback to the receding snow, though: there's trash everywhere. Whatever got covered during the first blizzard is just now reemerging, and today's high winds started tossing the trash around. I was sitting here at the computer this afternoon when I heard a clattering go up the driveway, then a couple of minutes later the sound went back the other way. I went out and looked around and found a flattened plastic gallon jug. I have no idea where it came from or how it found its way there; I just dropped it in our recycling bin and assumed it wouldn't be the last such find I make.

17 March 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #17

I admit that last week's alley-found Volvo was something of a stall tactic, as I tried to figure out what I wanted to feature in the Fantasy Garage this time around. I think the time has come for the FG to turn somewhat autobiographical and include a car from my early years.

For a good chunk of time we were a station wagon family. Wagons were so common as family vehicles in the 1960s and '70s that us having one made me feel like our family was a little bit more normal, because we were at least superficially like so many other families, at least in that respect. (Eventually we got a car that wasn't a wagon, but it's never been clear to me why, because it was still a full-size car. Maybe by that point my parents thought a station was no longer necessary.) There was also a Blazer and a Subaru wagon, but those didn't come along until after I went to college.
In fact, we had only three station wagons. The first was a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air in turquoise ("Artesian turquoise" was its official GM name) with a matching interior. The seats were vinyl and were very hot in the summer. If you look at this catalog image (from Old Car Brochures) it's the car at the bottom, but the color of the car at the top (it was brighter than how it looks in this image).

A few years later we got another Chevy wagon, one year newer but a Caprice, which was the top trim level and a new model that year. (These were used cars, by the way.) Chevy had decided they wanted to go after the Ford Country Squire more directly, and in order to do that they needed to offer a wagon with woodgrain side trim.
After wood-bodied station wagons became too costly to produce, Ford started doing the fake-wood thing in the '50s, but other companies didn't offer their own versions until some time later. After Chevy jumped in, just about every other wagon maker brought out its own version. Ours was white like this one but the interior was blue, not red. And my recollection (which may be wrong) is that the interior was a cloth and vinyl combo, which was considered classier at the time.
In 1972 we got a 1970 Plymouth Sport Suburban. I've posted about this car before, and it's probably my favorite of all the cars we had when I was growing up. Ours was dark green with a dark- and light-green vinyl interior. Other than the color it looked just like this one, right down to the wheel covers. But ours didn't have the third seat; none of our station wagons did. We still rode in the "way back," just sitting on the hard metal floor.
The hidden headlights were my favorite feature of the Sport Suburban. The twin bulges on the hood had optional turn signal repeaters which faced back toward the driver; they're the same basic idea as the ones you see today on cars' side mirrors, except those are more for the benefit of other drivers.

So yes, I want a Sport Suburban for the Fantasy Garage, for nostalgia's sake more than anything else. The '71 was pretty much the same car, but the grille was different (it still had the hidden headlights), and Chrysler eliminated the vent windows from its full-size cars that year. But they also took away the hood bulges, so it's sort of a toss-up. I think I'd probably stick to a '70 just because it's what we had. I used to include the '72 on my wish list, but over the years I've come to like its styling less and less.

16 March 2015

Last Couple of Weeks in Awesome, Forgetfulness Edition

I'm not sure what's been happening on weekends. On weeks that I have something to share, it's always my goal to post TWiA on Saturday, but it almost never happens. And then when it gets to be Sunday night at 11:30, I don't always feel like getting into it at that point. So these are varying degrees of old, which means many of you will have seen at least some of them already...

Another delightful, spot-on parody from Sesame Street. (The Verge)

For the obsessively inclined, a miniature reproduction of Mulder and Scully's office from The X-Files. (The A.V. Club)

Okay, so I read a lot of stuff on the A.V. Club, and maybe not so much elsewhere as I used to, but there is a lot of decent writing about a range of subjects. For example, this "Primer" article on UK synth-pop is comprehensive, and led me to this worthwhile BBC documentary (also embedded at the bottom of the article) on the subject.

Also related to music (and also via the A.V. Club), a synthesizer you can use right in your web browser.

And finally this... time, a new tumblr recounting the type of inquiries one gets when one works at a media outlet. Not much content yet, but I hope there will be more. (Universal Hub)

14 March 2015

Retro Video Unit (3/13/15)

I completely forgot to post one of these last week, and no one ever calls me out on it... regardless, catching up on a small mountain of TV shows recorded over the past two to three weeks let me to this selection, "Don't Go" by Yaz(oo).

I posted "Situation" by Yaz a couple of years ago, but this song (and the album on which they both appear, Upstairs at Eric's) were minor plot points in a recent episode of FX's The Americans, which is absolutely, unequivocally one of the best goddamn shows on TV right now and you really, really should check it out.

13 March 2015

A Way Through

Yesterday morning I heard a snowblower, which I thought was strange since it's been weeks since we've received any new snow. But later in the day I found out why:
Someone took advantage of the several days of warmth to carve a passageway through from our neighbor's sidewalk to the parking lot of the adjacent business, allowing pedestrians to avoid having to walk in the street for a few additional feet. (It is pretty narrow though, and looks more like it was done with a shovel.)

11 March 2015

March Thaw

This week's warmer temperatures aren't going to last, but it has been warm enough for long enough to allow me to finally remove the last stubborn slab of ice around the perimeter of our house. This was on the side of the house away from the driveway, an area that gets very little sun during January and February (and not much in general), and the ice there was about two inches thick. But even that was no match for the thermometer climbing over 50 yesterday and today, and not dropping below freezing last night. I was also able to widen the walkway along the front of the house with minimal effort.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the melting snow is revealing previously buried items, like this:
This car belongs to the people who live in the yellow house at the left of the photo. They have at least half a dozen vehicles (and as far as I can tell, only two drivers in the household) and this old Chevy Cavalier seems to be one of the lesser-used ones, so it wasn't surprising that they let this one get buried. I wish I'd gotten a pic a couple of days earlier, when it was just starting to emerge from its snowy cocoon. Before that it appeared to be just a very large pile of snow; in fact I didn't even realize that there was a car under there.

Now, I'm off to enjoy the day on a nice long walk with the dog.

10 March 2015

Dry Feet/Wet Feet

After this crazy and challenging winter we are benefiting from a change in the overall pattern. There have been no significant storms for at least a couple of weeks, and for the past several days temperatures have been on the high side of 40. In fact, today it topped 50. As a result the snow has begun melting in earnest, resulting in puddles everywhere.

As we transition from winter to spring, waterproof footwear is very much necessary. I have a pair of Merrell Moab "trail shoes" which are basically sneakers with rugged outdoor styling. When I bought them about five years ago I decided to get the waterproof version, which turned out to be a good idea. For the past couple of winters I have been wearing them as my dog-walking shoes in all but the coldest conditions, and also sometimes when I'm out shoveling snow, depending on how much snow has fallen; this year I wore my pull-on boots a lot more, since the snow was much deeper.

Many of the storms we got this winter lasted for two or three days, so often after clearing the deep snow I had to shovel again the next day, and I would wear the Merrells. On a couple of occasions I came in from working outside and found that my socks were wet. I didn't think much about it at the time, knowing that snow could have gotten in around my ankles. But then I noticed the same thing after walking through some puddles which weren't deep enough to let water in at the ankles.

Then last week I noticed a tear at the heel of one of the Merrells, where the pull-on strap attaches inside the back. I figured I would have to replace them next winter, so I started looking around online to see what's available. I happened to be browsing the shoe section on the L.L. Bean website and saw that they carry the shoes (I think I bought mine from Zappos). Then I noticed that several reviewers claim that the waterproofing wears off after a while, which was consistent with my experience this winter. Apparently Merrell's version of waterproofing in this instance consists of some sort of treatment for the materials, but it is not permanent.

A look at the shoes on Zappos showed similar complaints from reviewers. I also noticed that Merrell now offers a Gore-Tex version of the shoe. Gore-Tex is a different, and far more effective, method of waterproofing shoes or garments, in which a membrane is bonded to the materials during construction. It's also more expensive, as the process is trademarked, patented, or whatever; companies that want to make shoes or clothing with Gore-Tex have to pay a fee to the company that invented the membrane, and that cost gets passed on to customers in higher retail prices for those items.

The Gore-Tex Moabs are $30 more than the regular "waterproof" version, which is now about $20 higher than what I paid for mine five years ago, so I'd end up spending almost 50% more to get shoes that are really, truly, and (in theory) permanently waterproof. On the other hand, I suppose five years is a decent amount of time for the lesser form of waterproofing to last, and for the Moabs to last in general. I may still end up buying a pair of the Gore-Tex Merrells, since I like them in general and they are available in wide widths, but I will definitely be looking for other options as well.

09 March 2015

Car Stuff: Brick on Bricks

Roving contributor A Proper Bostonian spotted this week's vehicle in one of the Back Bay's alleys:
Volvo built this basic design, with periodic refinement and restyling, from the late 1960s into the early 1990s. They were a common enough sight on the roads when I was growing up, but they aren't seen much anymore in this area.

This example is from the early 1970s (I think it's a '72 based on the door handles, vent windows, grille, and bumpers) and looks well used but still roadworthy and serviceable. While highly regarded for their durability, time tends to wear out cars in New England, and most of these have probably gone to the crusher by now, which makes it even more pleasant to see this one still being used.

06 March 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault: Let's Go Crazy

Friday night already? I must be having too much fun, or something... anyway, here's another ticket, this one from Prince and the Revolution at the fabulous concrete Worcester Centrum in late March of 1985.
This was the year after the gigantic success of Purple Rain, both the movie and the album, and this tour was still being billed as "the Purple Rain tour." Note that the ticket says "wear something purple." In my case I was otherwise dressed in black and white, but I did wear a purple satin tie that was about an inch wide. What I'm wondering here in 2015 is, why did I already have that before I knew I was going to the concert? Well, it was the '80s—that's the only answer I got, so it'll have to do.

Prince had Sheila E as his opening act, which was pretty cool. At the end of her set, she did this thing with light-up drumsticks, and all the other lights were lowered so she was playing the drums in the dark with lighted sticks. Gimmicky, sure, but still fun.

I think I won these tickets as well, though there was no bus ride as part of the prize, so my date and I (yeah, I took a young lady to this, because that's what you do when you win Prince tickets) took the bus. Getting out to Worcester wasn't such a big deal, but finding our way from the Centrum back to the bus station in an unfamiliar city wasn't great, but other concertgoers had done the same thing, so between asking one or two people and following others (whom we could tell by their dress had also been at the show), we managed to find our way to the station, where we found that we had to wait another hour or so (maybe longer) for the bus back to Boston to arrive. I don't remember what time we got back, but I do know the T had stopped running so we took a cab back to BU.

04 March 2015


The view out the window of an MBTA bus:
The buses have acquired a bit of road dirt during the winter, as you can see.

03 March 2015


I had to go to the dentist in Brookline yesterday, and the T seems to be back to something resembling normal service. The subway and trolley lines don't have all the cars back in service yet that they should, but my trips to and from my destination did not take any longer than they otherwise would have.

Of course, I wasn't riding the commuter rail. If I had to ride a commuter train daily I think I'd be pretty disgruntled by now, especially after it was announced that it will probably take until the end of this month to restore service on the commuter lines to normal.

That seems like a long time, but I was thinking that date may have been chosen for a bit of the underpromise-and-overdeliver effect. Say the T is able to get service back to normal by St. Patrick's Day. They can then issue a press release claiming that a return to normal service was achieved two weeks ahead of plan. It's bullshit, but it's what PR is all about. It's also disingenuous and insulting to all the commuters who had to endure the commuter rail's miserable performance this winter.

The system's flaws were exposed in particularly harsh and unpleasant fashion, and even after service returns to what it's supposed to be, commuters aren't going to forget what they went through. I am very interested to see what measures Keolis (who operates the commuter trains for the MBTA) is planning and how they intend to remedy the commuter rail's problems.

02 March 2015

Car Stuff: A Winter Apparition

The weekend happened, didn't it? I was planning a TWiA but things got sort of busy on Saturday, and yesterday we were visiting my family. I'll just hold onto my selections for the coming weekend.

Meanwhile, the winter hasn't exactly presented me with abundant opportunities to take photos of old cars. I did have another near miss that I am very disappointed about: one day a few weeks back, I was out clearing snow from the end of the driveway when a Buick convertible from the early 1970s drove by. It looked very well-kept and I was surprised someone would have such a car out during the winter. I don't generally have my phone on me when I go out to shovel, and even if I'd had it, I wouldn't have been able to get it out in time to get a picture. (You can get an idea of how the car looks by browsing Google Images.)

I only got a quick look at it as it passed, but I know it was a full-size model, black with a tan top, and I saw enough of the rear bumper and lights (just different enough from previous years) to believe it was a 1973. That would mean it was a Centurion, a short-lived model (in fact, '73 was its last year) between the LeSabre and the Electra lines. There was also a LeSabre convertible in 1971 and '72 that was dropped for '73, but after the whole Centurion line was dropped, the remaining convertible became a LeSabre again for '74. Convertibles were declining in popularity in general and other car makers had already started dropping them as early as 1971, but General Motors held out through 1975 ('76 for the Cadillac Eldorado).

I'm a big fan of the full-size GM cars of 1971-76, which is not necessarily a popular sentiment. I'll qualify that by saying I tend to prefer models from the first half of the generation because they tend to be cleaner and although they are very large cars, they wear their size well. The federal bumper standards went into effect front and rear for 1974 models, and concurrent with that GM started fussing with the styling, changing rooflines, adding "formal" windows in the sides of the roof panels, making larger and more elaborate grilles, and generally messing up what had looked pretty nice before.

I am hoping that when spring finally arrives I see this car out again around Medford and can get photos of it.