31 May 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (5/29/15)

Yes, it's a couple of days late, but I have a good excuse: I was working for much of this week, including yesterday, so my attention was required elsewhere.

Anyway, I've known since I started this offshoot of RVU that I wanted to feature a David Bowie concert. If I need to explain why to you, then you probably need to go back and do some remedial work in "pop and rock music of the mid-to-late 20th century." The first legitimate rock album I ever bought was ChangesOne, which I think came out in 1975. Bowie's music marked the point where I first understood fully that there was deeper meaning being conveyed within and through a song, and to this day his work is among the most significant and meaningful to me in music.

I chose a concert from this specific tour because it's so highly theatrical, with an elaborate stage design. Sometimes that sort of thing can backfire or overshadow a performer, but here it's part of the appeal.

30 May 2015


I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon in The New Yorker, because a few days ago while in a store I was subjected to the heinous "We Built This City." Often when I'm in stores I don't notice the music, or at least it doesn't register in my consciousness, but that has a lot to do with the volume at which it's being played. In this instance it was louder than it ought to have been, which meant I was hearing it inside my head later that evening.

Frequently songs, even ones such as this one that I loathe, can get stuck in my brain for days if I hear only a few bars. Sometimes it's fun, like having an iPod set on shuffle in my head; other times, not so much. There have been instances where the mere mention of the title of a song, without hearing any of the actual song being played, was enough to induce an earworm.

I read an article recently about a study that suggested chewing gum can help dislodge an earworm from one's brain, because the repetitive muscle movement required to chew gum somehow interferes with the part of the brain where songs get stuck, or something like that. I haven't tried that yet on myself, because typically I don't have the same song stuck in my head for more than a couple of days before it gets replaced by something else, voluntarily or not. This week, I noticed that a couple of days after the original infestation, "WBTC" had been replaced by the opening-credits theme music from House of Cards, shortly after we had watched a couple of episodes.

[Tangentially: I seem to remember Spin magazine crowning "WBTC" as the worst song ever, or at least the worst song of the rock era. I always agreed with that ranking, but I think if someone attempted to compile an updated version of that list, last year's "All About That Bass" would be a strong contender for the number one spot.]

29 May 2015

Retro Video Unit (5/29/15)

(The biweekly video clip and the monthly concert happen to fall on the same day this time around, so I thought I'd post this one early.)

I've mainly stuck to the 1970s and '80s for my video selections because that's when I was watching music videos and paying attention to them. In the late '80s and early '90s MTV had a weekly show called "120 Minutes" that featured clips by alternative artists. I usually recorded it on my VCR (!) so I could see videos by bands I liked, and occasionally get introduced to bands I hadn't heard of.

By the time his album Brick by Brick came out in 1990, Iggy Pop had already been performing and recording for about a quarter-century, but the album got quite a bit of airplay on alternative radio and raised his profile quite a bit higher than it had been for some time.

I've never been a huge fan of his work, but I have enjoyed most of it, and I appreciate his status as a progenitor of punk, a spiritual godfather to thousands of performers and bands, and a collaborator with other musicians like David Bowie.

The song "Candy," featuring Kate Pierson of The B-52's, stands out to me from the rest of the album. I haven't heard it in a long time, but it popped into my head a couple of days ago for no reason, which I took as a sign that I should feature it this time.

(Side note: Iggy has always rocked those bleached-out jeans, which seem to be back in fashion.)

27 May 2015

Car Stuff: The Getaway

Damn, it happened again. I was working on ideas for a Car Stuff post in my mind, then some time yesterday afternoon all thoughts of such left my mind and did not return. Most peculiar...

I'm getting a little better at capturing quick shots when I spot cars on the move, but there's always some luck involved in the timing. A couple of weeks ago we pulled into a parking space and I realized what was parked in front of us, so I got out my phone and prepared to take pictures after we got out of the car. But right at that moment I noticed that the car was occupied and the driver was about to pull away, so I just pushed the button to get whatever shots I could.
This sighting was a Chrysler LeBaron convertible from the 1980s. You may remember that after the Cordoba went out of production, Chrysler kept Ricardo Montalban on the payroll to do ads for their other cars, including this one. The LeBaron was one of the finest examples in the history of the auto industry of making a silk purse from a sow's ear, the ear in this case being the lowly Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant that I've mentioned before. Conveniently, I can identify this one as a 1986, because it's the only year that this body style had the center-mounted brake light before getting a redesign.

The LeBaron was dressed up outside and inside, not enough to hide its origins but enough to make it a much more pleasant environment than the source vehicle. The convertibles were available with a Mark Cross leather interior, and also with fake woodgrain paneling that evoked the Town & Country convertibles of the 1940s. Sometimes they also had a trunk-mounted luggage rack, which always looks silly regardless of what car it's on.
The second shot reveals more clearly that this car is showing its age, but it's still running after almost 30 years, and these are such a rare sight now that I'm very glad I spotted it, and got these pics in time.

25 May 2015

Long Weekend in Awesome (5/25/15)

Apologies for the lack of posting the past few days. No reason, really; just this and that, and not paying attention to the passage of hours and days...

This is a recycling/environment issue I never gave any thought to until I followed the link to the article, but I think it's a fantastic idea. (National Geographic via Dappered)

Think of these as sort of crowdsourced time-lapse movies. (The Verge)

Interesting piece here about visual effects in movies. For me it depends on the movie and the story it's attempting to tell. (Vice via Engadget)

And finally this... whenever: some news on the Twin Peaks revival set for next year on Showtime (Welcome to Twin Peaks via The A.V. Club); and one last piece about Mad Men (Vulture).

21 May 2015

Stashed Cash

I was at my local liquor store this evening, because I knew the Mrs. was coming home with burritos and I really wanted a cold beer to enjoy with mine. There was a guy in front of me in line who looked to be at least 40, with a woman of a similar age.

Long ago I worked in the gift shop of a local cultural institution that received a lot of visits from school groups, and camp groups during the summer. The kids had a tendency to keep their money stashed in their shoes, and I watched in amazement as the guy in line ahead of me bent his leg up, reached into his shoe, and pulled out cash. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, so I suppose he may not have had any pockets, and apparently he doesn't carry a wallet either.

20 May 2015

Some Final Mad Men Thoughts

After having thought about it for a few days, I have a few thoughts on the end (and ending) of Mad Men.

Initially I was disappointed, for a couple of reasons. I had really wanted to see Don return to New York, if not necessarily to return to work (I didn't want to see him submit to McCann). I didn't need to see Stephanie again, and I felt that the whole retreat thing was a long, slow diversion from the events I hoped to see, even if Don's time there did provide a couple of genuinely wonderful moments. And I though the whole Coke thing was a little too pat and a fairly cynical move even for this show. (I have never cared for Coke, and I admit this may be coloring my opinion somewhat.) But as I turned everything over in my mind, I eventually reconciled with all of it.

I didn't want Don and Peggy's last interaction of the series to be over the phone, but in reflecting on it, I now realize that the separation, the physical distance between them at that moment, is symbolic of what Don had been struggling with and what caused him to walk out of that meeting and go off wandering. It also occurred to me that, since the show chronicled how society changed during the 1960s, it's a nod to how the pace of life had begun to accelerate by the point in time at which the show ends. Outside of the business world, long-distance phone calls were a luxury for a long time for many people, but that changed along with almost every other aspect of our lives. And Peggy's concern for Don's well-being at that point, her saying to him "you can come home," spoke to the length and depth of their personal connection.

The fictional idea that the experience at the retreat could lead Don to come up with the Coke ad was admittedly clever, and the bit of foreshadowing with the Coke machine in the previous episode enhanced it. We didn't get to see Don back in New York, but we are given an indication that it did happen and are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. I happen to think that series finales tend to benefit from some degree of ambiguity, and that's true here.

Elsewhere, I did not need to see the reunited Campbell family boarding a LearJet for Wichita, but I didn't mind either. For a brief moment I had the awful thought, "Oh no, are they going to die in a plane crash?" but I dismissed it just as quickly. Likewise, I was not in the camp of those fans who had been wishing that Peggy and Stan would get together, but I felt the show had been aiming them at each other for some time, lining them up for an eventual pairing, and I like the idea of them becoming some sort of Madison Avenue power couple.

Joan? Joan is going to rule the world, or at least the industrial film industry. Richard wasn't good enough for her, and I'm glad she didn't have to invest a lot of years in the relationship to learn that. After what she went through I really wanted to see a bright future for her, and I was very happy with where her story was left. I don't know if things will work out with Roger and Marie, but she's definitely a better match for him than Jane was.

I mentioned to a friend that I had to chuckle a bit when we got the shot of Betty sitting in the kitchen smoking, because my own grandfather had lung cancer at around the same time period (a couple of years earlier, but close) and he too continued smoking during his illness; the doctor said there wasn't any point to making him stop. I doubt that attitude prevails today, but I also imagine that the survival rate is higher today than 45 years ago.

My main issues with the final half-season were that I didn't like seeing the agency cease to exist, but the reality is that such things happen all the time, and I definitely had no objections to how the stories were conveyed. Mad Men will always be a special experience to me, and I'm sure I will revisit it down the road.

18 May 2015

Car Stuff: Paulie?

This 1990s Cadillac Eldorado appeared recently in a neighbor's driveway. It's very similar to the car Paulie drove on The Sopranos, but one night I was out with the dog and saw a guy come out and get into it who looked to be about the age of the kid who Paulie had as sort of an apprentice for a while (name escapes me, it's been a while since I saw the show).
Whoever he is, I'll be friendly to him, just in case.

15 May 2015

Retro Video Unit (5/15/15)

I didn't forget but I am pretty tired, so I'm just going to drop this off here and be on my way...

I recently read a piece (can't remember where) about the album Forever Changes by the 1960s band Love. My introduction to that band was through this cover of "Alone Again Or" by The Damned from 1987—but, I'd never seen this video. Both bands' music is worth seeking out.

This Is the Modern World

A few months back I finally got around to downloading my bank's iPhone app. It was nice to be able to check my balance while I was out of the house and away from my computer, and there were a couple of times where I needed to transfer money from one account into another, and I appreciated the convenience of being able to do that on the go.

Today I needed to deposit a check, and I was supposed to be going downtown this morning so I intended to take care of that then, but my appointment got rescheduled pretty last-minute. I was thinking about which bank branch I should go to instead to make the deposit, and at what point during the day it would be most convenient, when I remembered that I can make deposits through the app. You just use your phone to take photos of the front and back of the check, fill out a digital deposit slip of sorts, and that's it.

I don't mind going to the bank to make deposits in person, but there are times when it's not especially convenient if I'm not already out doing other things. This is incredibly convenient, and I can't believe I didn't start taking advantage of it sooner. I'm definitely living in the 21st century now...

13 May 2015

A TV Highlight

Last week's episode of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer was the most brilliant thing I've seen on TV this year (and yes, that includes Mad Men). It's a deft parody of the classic movie 12 Angry Men where the jurors are debating whether or not Amy is, essentially, hot enough to have a TV show. The jurors are played by several familiar faces: Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti, Nick Di Paolo, Chris Gethard, Vincent Kartheiser, John Hawkes, and a few others; the judge is played by Dennis Quaid, making his second guest appearance this season.

You can watch the episode here if you have a TV provider, or in the Comedy Central app. (I'm sure there are other ways to find it, but you aren't going to hear about them from me...)

12 May 2015

Stops and Starts

The MBTA started adding some new buses to its fleet a while back. I don't think any of them are operating on the route I use most frequently, but they are running on the 101 so I've gotten to ride them several times on that route.

The most obvious and most pleasant thing about new buses is that they're clean. Buses see such heavy use that they lose their luster pretty quickly even when they are cleaned and maintained, so it's nice to be able to enjoy them at the start of their life cycle. The seats are made of a textured plastic that holds riders in place a bit better than the older buses' smooth seats. It also seems they decided to bring back the tinted glass.

I also noticed that the motors have a stop-start function, which probably helps save a little fuel. In theory these systems are great, but in usage it's a bit rough. When idling at traffic lights, the motor shuts down after a period of time, and the bus gives a big shudder. When the driver pushes the accelerator the motor restarts, and that part is a bit smoother than the shutdown but it's still slightly jarring.

It's entirely possible that implementing such a system on a vehicle as large as a bus is more difficult than adding it to a car, and I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about it. I'm not. I commend the T for choosing vehicles that will consume less fuel. The system just takes some getting used to as a passenger.

11 May 2015

Car Stuff: It's Back

I'm cheating a little by posting this, but I'm just not feeling up for any lengthy, involved explanations today...
The neighbor's '68 Camaro reappeared a week ago today. Last year it sat in the driveway all season, but I think it may have received some attention during the winter while it was in storage. It looks like it was washed recently, and I've already seen it parked in two or three places so I'm pretty sure it's being driven. Now I need to see if I can wrangle a ride in it...

09 May 2015

This Week in Awesome (5/9/15)

Got a little sidetracked today, but it's technically still Saturday in this time zone...

From last week, photos of the former Hilltop Steak House in Saugus being demolished. Bit of nostalgia there for a lot of us. FYI, the cactus sign will remain at the site regardless of what eventually gets built there. (WCVB via Brian Cummings)

One of the more interesting aspects of old cars, and one that doesn't get much attention, is the design process with drawings and clay models. This forthcoming documentary on PBS (no air date yet) looks back at designs from decades past. (Curbside Classic)

I generally skip the compilation videos of news bloopers, but these are vintage clips from the '80s and '90s, and somehow that made me enjoy them more. (The Daily Dot via The A.V. Club)

If you're in the mood to fall down a silly Mad Men-related rabbit hole, this one is pretty amusing.

And finally this week, this is the kind of thing the internet is good for. Dryer sheets—really? (@Midnight)

08 May 2015

Bits (A Non-Post Post)

I had a bunch of ideas for posts I wanted to do over the next week or so, but it's late and right now I can't remember what they were, except for ones that involve photos I haven't taken yet. Those will have to wait until next week.

We're going to see the Avengers movie tomorrow night, so I'll probably have at least a couple of thoughts about it.

Next week the TV networks try to get advertisers interested in their new fall shows, and announce their schedules for next season. From the limited information that's already been released, one trend I noticed is another batch of medical shows, something that rarely interests me.

There will be a TWiA sighting this weekend, and it will happen Saturday, I promise.

07 May 2015

Two Episodes Left

There are only two episodes remaining of Mad Men (or, in the ridiculous verbiage of TV marketing, "only one episode left until the series finale"), so I found myself thinking it might be an opportune moment to weigh in on this final half-season.

I'm sure I speak for many when I say that the recent events around the agency itself are not what I was expecting in the final stretch of episodes, but the show has always been adept at avoiding what viewers are likely to be expecting. With the agency being absorbed into McCann-Erickson, I was not at all surprised to see the characters having difficulty adjusting to becoming part of such a huge organization. It would have been too anachronistic to use Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" (Wish You Were Here was not released until 1975), but it certainly would have been appropriate.

Pete, Harry, and (especially) Ted seem quite comfortable with having been assimilated into the Borg; Roger feels like he no longer has any real purpose, but he doesn't need to work and could easily choose to slide into an early retirement. The mistreatment and lack of respect shown to Joan were unfortunately all too typical experiences for women in the business world and, sadly, women are still experiencing such things today. Don has simply abdicated, driving off in search of the elusive Diana Bauer and picking up hitchhikers going to destinations he wasn't even planning to go (I loved Roger's comment to Jim Hobart on Don's absence: "He does that").

Peggy stands out, quite pointedly, as the exception. She already has a decade of experience and is ready to set the world on fire. Watching her arrive at her new office, it's clear she's prepared to extract every possible ounce of portfolio-building mojo from her time at McCann, and she seems likely to arrive at the end of her contract as someone at the top of the profession, ready to move on and perhaps form her own agency.

Historically, acquisitions were very common in advertising (and led to the super-agencies of today), but my gut tells me Matthew Weiner does not intend to wrap up this story with his characters adrift in a place they feel they don't belong. It's just too much of a down note, even for a show that has been so focused on characters who were struggling to find meaning in life (and generally not succeeding). Therefore, I think there's a strong possibility we are going to see a time jump, either at the start of the next episode (as usually occurred at the beginning of each season), at the start of the final episode, or perhaps during one or both of them.

Don knows he is never going to find any kind of fulfillment working at McCann, so I think he might decide to walk away from the business. Jumping ahead in time would allow the story to move to a point where these people could theoretically come together again in some form, or it could merely serve as a kind of check-in, giving viewers a sense of the paths the various characters are on and where they may be going. But I realize that I may be completely wrong. Like I said, the show tends to avoid doing what we think it will.

05 May 2015

Fuzzy Cell Plan Logic

In trying to cut back on some of the household expenses, I have been looking at ways to potentially lower our cell phone and cable bills. Saving money on TV and internet likely means switching providers, and I have no particular love for Comcast so if that's what it takes, it won't bother me much.

I am rather reluctant to switch cell phone companies for a few reasons: inertia (it's easier to stay with Verizon); the network tends to perform better, with certain exceptions; my extreme dislike of AT&T. But the incessant ads proclaiming that Sprint or T-Mobile or whoever will pay off the early termination fees, and the lure of a new phone, led me to at least size up what others are offering and what it would cost.

It also led me to look at my account info on Verizon's website, which showed me that in any given billing period I have never used more than half of the data allowance I pay for, so at the very least I ought to be able to lower that and save a few dollars a month. I was also curious about the "More Everything" plan that Verizon has been offering, so after doing some inconclusive calculations online I called customer service to get answers from a human.

The lure of More Everything is that there are no limits on calling minutes or texts per billing period. We don't use a lot of phone minutes but currently I pay $5 a month for 250 texts on the Mrs.'s line, and on occasion she gets close to that limit, so it would be nice not to have to keep track of that anymore. (Most competitors' plans also offer unlimited talk and text.) But with three lines (my mother is also on our plan) and my current amount of smartphone data on one line for me, More Everything ends up costing a few dollars more per month. If I cut back the data to 1 gigabyte it would be a few dollars less, not what I consider a significant savings.

And what's worse is, if I configure the plan as though I were a new customer, it's about $15 less a month. This is not surprising, as these days there isn't as much growth in users as there was a decade ago, so cell phone companies fight each other for new customers, many of whom are switching away from a rival. Apparently, pleasing new customers is more of a priority than keeping existing customers satisfied, and this will certainly factor into my eventual decision.

04 May 2015

Car Stuff: Almost All of It

I've had a lot of near misses lately with old cars out on the roads. If the timing isn't right I can't get my phone out and turn on the camera in time to get any photos. Sometimes I just hold it up and push the button, not knowing exactly what it's going to capture.
Just a week and a half ago I was arriving at the corner where I wait for the bus. On my left I noticed a car that was about to pull away from the traffic light. My mind registered that it was large, sort of metallic beige, and probably old enough to be worth getting a shot of, so I pulled out my phone and this is what I ended up with.

I've seen my share of large GM cars from the 1980s and featured many of them here, but for some reason their 1990s counterparts seem to be more rare on the roads, except for Cadillacs. So this Chevrolet Caprice was a good find. This version was sold from model years 1991 to 1996, but I know this is at least a '93 because of the open rear wheels; for the first two years the rear wheel opening was lower and straight across, giving the car an unattractive bloated look.

You can see the passengers well enough to discern that they are old, which is not surprising. Older people are often the ones who hold onto these cars and keep them running.

02 May 2015

Retro Video Unit (5/1/15)

Friday, Saturday... it all runs together sometimes.

I heard songs by Tears for Fears a couple of times this week, first in a store and then on a TV show, so I figured it was a sign that I should post a video by the band. They were sort of a more eggheadish counterpart to bands like Depeche Mode, with lyrics directly inspired by the work of psychologist Arthur Janov.

The two core members of the band split up after their third album, but reunited in 2000 and continue to tour and record. But I decided to go back to their first album, The Hurting, for this song, "Change." I don't claim to understand what's going on in this video, I just like the song, and the band's music in general.

01 May 2015

Replacement Laces

This week I went in search of new laces for my Eastland four-eyelet mocs. Finding shoelaces isn't as easy as you'd think. Most neighborhoods and business districts used to have at least one she repair business, but most of those are gone. Shoe stores are a reasonable choice, but even there I found the selection limited and unsatisfactory.

Most drugstores have a very small section with shoe care products. A couple of days ago I was downtown and went into the big CVS across Washington Street from the Old South Meeting House. Because it's a larger than average store, it has a whole endcap of shoe stuff. I found two sets of laces I felt would work with these shoes, so I bought both.
The darker brown laces are 30" long, a much more sensible and manageable length for this style of shoe with this number of eyelets. (The laces that came with the shoes were around 42" long, and even after I'd cut off several inches they were too long.) However, these are intended for dress shoes, so they are thin and I don't think they look good here.

The other laces on the left are a curious sort of caramel color, but they look like they might have come with the shoes. They are a bit thicker, so more suited to a casual shoe, and the weave of the fabric is a bit more noticeable. They are only 27" long, which makes for pretty small loops when tied, but they seem like the better choice. If I can find darker brown laces in this style and in the 30" length, I will get them.