Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pinterest Is a Beast

Oh. My. God.

We actually did a project that we found on Pinterest.

We are the one percent. The one percent of Pinterest users that will complete a project that they pin. It's not the same one percent as, say, possessing absurd sums of money - like, Scrooge McDuck sums of money - but it is a prestigious classification nonetheless. I'll wear it like a badge. Which I will, of course, take pictures of and pin.

Using this clever Ikea hack from the Hunted Interior, we painted a larger kitchen cart and added wine box drawer fronts.

Honestly, the biggest difficulties we faced were logistics outside of the project itself. Namely, we tried to buy the kitchen cart on tax-free weekend, otherwise known as the state of Massachusetts's invitation to render Ikea a nigh-insurmountable bastion of havoc and ridiculousness. Which is all to say that one chaotic trip to Ikea later, we had to order it online. The only other challenge came from procuring wine boxes. Most liquor stores within the city were not amenable to sharing. The word "priceless" was used at least once. Larger chains in the suburbs - Chestnut Hill, naturally (ironically?) - had no reservations when it came to abandoning these rare wares.

Oh, and we had some help from a certain Lucy from Boston, who just couldn't resist dipping her feet in a can of mint-green paint, leading to this moment of extreme displeasure:

Til next time!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hokusai Has Left the Building

If I'm being honest, he actually left quite a while ago. Eek. Timeliness.

In the interim, though, there are three things about Hokusai and the era in which he lived that have resonated with me.

First, woodblock printing is a daunting task. It's no secret that I have spent a great deal of time in the Museum of Fine Arts. Most of that time has been spent admiring the layered brushstrokes and combinations of colors, all-out awed by their composition and the creation of a masterful image that I know I could never do.  In addition to the attention paid to layering and colors, there is a spatial component to woodblock printing, too. The woodblocks themselves must be created as the mirror of the intended image and each color must be placed on its own woodblock in such a way that it perfectly lines up with the entirety of the image. Short of automation, it is difficult to conceive of how this process can take place. Of course, others are taking up its preservation (and using Mario Kart as the inspiration to do it, no less!).

More than printing with woodblocks, Hokusai worked in other art forms - and very commercial ones at that. Many even link Hokusai's popularity outside of his home country to the opening of Japan to Western markets in 1853, a time period marked by surges in popularity of Japanese art, commercial and fine, in the United States and Western Europe. Kind of like Egyptomania. With trade opened, though not entirely voluntarily, the road was paved for Japanese goods to reach American and European consumers. I can't say for sure that collectors would have received any Hokusai-designed, ready-to-assemble dioramas, but if they had, they must have been fascinated by them. They are incredibly detailed recreations of slice-of-life moments that tell imaginative stories. For example, the one shown below depicts a brawl at the local watering hole. Others, of course, told more substantial stories, local mythology included.

(If I had one regret surrounding the Hokusai exhibit, it is that not a single reprint of these dioramas was available for purchase at the gift shop.)

Lastly, there's a lot to learn from Hokusai and the period he lived in. These items that were freely available to the contemporary middle class and international markets are now pieces with a large, discerning audience the world over, works housed in a literal museum of fine arts. (I went on the last day of the exhibit, a day that saw long lines and crowds packed to bursting.) What, of the billions of goods around us, will become art? And why? Who would have known we'd enter a Mad Men-infused resurgence in advertising from our mid century? Who could have predicted that the Golden Age of comic books (though I love them) would have created one of today's most competitive collector's markets?

I'm not saying we should all throw a used Dunkin cup in a shadow box and put it on our walls (it will be art in two hundred years, anyway -- just try not to be so hipster about it), but I left the Hokusai exhibit itching to explore our everyday and find a way to better appreciate the objects with which we fill it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The Right Mix of American History and High-Tech"

Yes, the title of this post is actually a quote. It is a very interesting one, though, in that it comes from a video game designer working on a new AAA production set in the city of Boston. When asked why the upcoming Fallout 4 would be set in Boston, Todd Howard replied that the city had "the right mix of American history and high-tech" (reported by Gamespot).i

It raises an interesting point. American history surrounds us, particularly for those of us zipping around Government Center and Beacon Hill. But just how "techy" is Boston?

Pretty techy.

Well, let's clarify. The most sweeping statistic comes from the March 13 "State of Technology" report by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council: the tech industry supports 20% of the state's workforce (reported by the Boston Globe).ii If that number doesn't shock you outright, imagine it went away -- that would be a doubling of double-digit unemployment. This industry (how very broad that term is) is hallowed ground for Massachusetts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of these jobs are centered, more or less, in Boston and Cambridge. The largest frequencies show up in the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua and Boston-Cambridge-Newton corridors.iii

More importantly, though, tech is here to stay. A 2013 article from the Boston Business Journal reports that the tech sector in Boston is one of the highest growing in the country. In that year, tech employees in this area saw a salary jump of 7% to an average of $94,742iv - close to three times my salary. I'd take it.

It's not just the salaries, though, that will keep technology rooted in the Boston area. It's the education and the housing, too. The Boston Redevelopment Authority recently released a report investigating whether or not there is a "brain drain" in the city. Citing a 2013 Northeastern University study (among many other universities around the world), "Talent Magnets - Cities and Universities Building the Workforce for the Knowledge Economy," the BRA found that Boston retains just under fifty-percent of its college graduates.iv For a city with as many colleges and universities as Boston, fifty-percent sounds good enough, but it does not match other cities that contributed to the report. Case in point, Barcelona retains seventy-percent of its graduates. However, the BRA found that among American cities, Boston has the fourth-highest population of people ages 20-34 with college degreesv, despite a quick web search (Wiki, naturally) revealing that Boston is only the 24th largest U.S. city.

In summary, then, the Boston-Cambridge region is home to a proportionately  large concentration of college-educated 20-34 year-olds, many of them in a still-growing technology industry that (already!) represents about a fifth of the Massachusetts workforce.

Housing, a perennial issue here, is at play, too. Rising rental prices have effectively priced-out many Bostonians, but it is true that an income of $94,742 could make even the one-bedrooms offered by the Viridian for $2,900 in Fenway work; the astronomical $3,325 for a one-bedroom at the Van Ness in Fenway might require a second income. It's not that simple, I know, particularly with the taxes paid in the state, but the numbers do seem to make it work.

So, is Boston really as techy as Fallout 4's developer says? Yes, it is. Will it remain that way? Yes, it certainly seems it will. Through a combination of rising tech salaries, a field that represents 20% of the state's workforce centered largely in the area, a 50% retention rate of college grads, and a housing market geared towards the salaries commanded by the industry, Boston seems as if it will remain a tech city for years to come.

Of course, I should add that this is all speculative. Yes, it is based on numbers from reasonable and trustworthy sources, but it doesn't speak at all towards lived experience. Ask a recent grad about his or her life in the tech industry and perhaps it's full of all the foibles and shenanigans the rest of us face, too.

Til next time!

Makuch, Eddie. "Why Fallout 4 Is Set in Boston." GameSpot. CBS Interactive Inc, 17 June 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
ii Adams, Dan. "Report: Mass. Tech Sector Flourishing, but Challenges Ahead." Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iii "Boston Area Employment - January 2015 : New England Information Office : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iv Resende, Patricia. "Boston Tech Salaries Get 7 Percent Boost - Boston Business Journal." Boston Business Journal. American City Business Journals, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 June 2015.
Lima, Alvaro, et al. Retaining Recent College Grads in Boston: Is There a Brain Drain? Rep. Boston: Boston Redevelopment Authority/Research Division, 2014. <>

Monday, June 15, 2015

Portraits of Statues

Once again, it is the Instagram account that has been receiving the bulk of my attention lately. What with all of this wedding planning, it has become so easy to slip into a photo-taking pattern and out of a post-writing one. Perhaps I'll wander my way back soon. (Only 40 days to go!) 

Onto the photos, then! Today's theme: portraits at the museum.

Til next time!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Looking Up

If you are so inclined, enjoy these dispatches from the Instagram account. Feel free to follow @dontlookdownbeantown on Instagram to get regular updates. In the meantime, here are some pics that are looking up.

Til next time!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The House that Blues Built

Sometimes I forget how important music is. Besides a commute, it can be difficult to find the time for it. And despite the fact that it makes things like doing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning the apartment more pleasant, I forget to put it on. All. The. Time.

But honestly, is there anything that Ray Charles, Amy Winehouse, and B.B. King can't make easier? No, there really isn't. Like the powers granted to super heroes through such bizarre instances as being bitten by a radioactive spider or getting trapped in a gamma explosion, good music can make light work of anything. Put on an excellent playlist and run a marathon. Play Taylor Swift and get over a breakup. See what I mean? Super powers. Of course there is more to it than that, but finding the right inspiration -- and one that can get stuck in your head and help you battle back against any obstacles, at that -- is an excellent first step.

So where is the best place to get this experience in Boston? The House of Blues, of course. Even in a packed house with a standing room only ticket, everyone gets a great view. Actually, standing room only is, to me, a richer experience than sitting in this particular venue. And though I am not an expert in anything acoustical, I think the House of Blues sounds good from every location I have stood in. Maybe this just means it's loud, but in all locations and in all ways, I have always been very pleased by the sound.

Last week, my fiancee and I saw Matt Kearney at the House of Blues. On tour to promote the release of his new album Just Kids, Kearney's show was a sell-out. It was also spectacular -- drawing on the right balance of known hits and newer releases. If you are a fan of his, I would recommend his new CD, and if you haven't heard of him, why not give it a try?

The building itself, though, is a mainstay of Landsdowne Street. Clearly the street's primary and most well-known occupant is Fenway Park, but it is a testament to the House of Blues that Landsdowne would be greatly lessened in character and culture if ever B.B. King's venture were to move. The decorations, details, and adornments within create the same sense of cultural mix and clash that the venue experiences weekly with the variety of music and sound it hosts. In the same way that Fenway Park brings everyone together in one Red Sox uniform, the House of Blues hosts people whose love falls under the banner term of music, but it is a venue wholly without uniform. Fenway and the House of Blues are two sides of the same coin. And, not coincidentally, they are the two sides of Landsdowne. 

Til next time!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Much Adieu About Really Important Things

Much has been said about the recent anniversary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist. Trimming all of the developments, investigations, and news stories down into one skeleton of a sentence is not an easy thing to do, but here is the gist: Twenty-five years ago, in 1990, thieves disguised as police officers entered the museum, bound the guards, and stole works by some of The Greats: Manet, Rembrandt, and Degas. And they still haven't been returned.

Art such as the pieces housed in museums -- the Isabella Stewart Gardner chief among them -- are cultural property. What would a lesson on the Renaissance be without its artists? What would the world's history look like before the invention of the camera? And, most importantly, if our shared experience of time and place isn't safe behind the thick, stone walls of a museum, then where is it safe?

In The Judgement of Paris, Ross King makes a compelling argument that the history of a European middle class cannot be separated from the rise of Impressionism. And a recent exhibit on Impressionism at the Museum of Fine Arts made it clear that the city of Boston was deeply moved by the rise of the Impressionist art movement. That pieces have been stolen from the Gardner Museum and not seen again is a crime against more people than just the museum's management.

But all of this has been said before, and all of it has been stated more skillfully by better writers. So allow me to direct you to them; I will even arrange it all by cost of entry.

For free, you can read about the anniversary of the theft in this retrospective from The New York Times. Written by Tom Mashburg, a former investigator on the case, it is a good summary of events, but also a genuine reflection on the search for the missing art. Also, the museum itself has put together a great website in partnership with Google Art Project that is very informative. Find it here.

For under ten dollars (on Kindle or the Kindle App), you can read The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. Or, if you prefer a fictionalized account, you can read The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro.

If you would prefer the latest release, Stephen Kurkjian recently wrote Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled off the World's Greatest Art Heist. It has a list price of $26, and is even available as a signed copy at the Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

And, of course, you could just visit the museum itself. Find all of the necessary information on their website.

Til next time!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Another Set of Panoramas

Well... as described. Have a look-see at another set of Boston panoramas.

Commonwealth Avenue

Public Garden

Til next time!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Truth be told, I was seriously considering titling this post with some kind of pun about the song "Paradise City" by Guns'n'Roses. That is, until I realized that "Panorama City" is, in all likelihood, a joke that has been made countless times in photography circles. And -- add it to the list, I guess -- I don't even like that song.

Without further adieu, here are the aforementioned not-associated-with-Guns'n'Roses pictures of Panorama City. Or, in this case, Boston.

Til next time!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Maya on Exhibit

Though the Museum of Science has been closed off-and-on due to the blizzard conditions (the fourth in four weeks... not bitter... not at all), it has a climatologically-distinct exhibit currently on view. If, amid these swirls of snow and whiplashes of cold air, you have found yourself dreaming of the Yucatan, then you are in luck.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you are interested in utterly immersing yourself in a time and place as far away from the Northeast in 2015, then you'd be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than the Maya's classical period. And if it can make you forget about this snowy Boston February, even for a little while, then why not?

There are better reasons, though, than forgetting the weather. Remembering and understanding that the Americas were once dominated by non-Europeans is important, and equally so, that civilizations native to this continent were complex, advanced, and sophisticated beyond what our grade school (even high school) textbooks intimated is, too. This is an enlightening, engaging experience that challenges commonly held assumptions and patterns of belief regarding the rich heritage of this nation and the others with whom we share the continent.

For example, it is largely understood that Mayans were one of the few civilizations to have developed the concept of the zero. But, did you ever ask - did they use the zero the same way we do with our Arabic numerals? The answer will surprise you. Using a zero in a number with Mayan numerals has an exponential effect that is not proportionate to the mathematical system we use of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. I am not enough of a mathematician to say this with authority, but I would have to conclude, then, that this challenges the idea of math as some sort of universal language - at the very least to the point that we may say it has "regional dialects." Brain-rattling, right?

There is, however, a lot of math that is lost on me. History and mythology, on the other hand, are languages I understand a bit more readily. That said, the special exhibit itself seems more geared towards a younger crowd, so if you have kids, they will get quite a bit out of it. There are stations where you can print a Mayan name or bookmark in hieroglyphs, create architecture, decipher a wall painting, etc. Though informative and interactive, it seemed a bit shorter than previous exhibits that used the same space. 

The real star of the show was the planetarium presentation. (The omni show, like others that have been featured, will likely arrive on Netflix at some point, and was not remastered for a curved IMAX screen - human beings and straight lines were quite susceptible to distortion.) Tales of the Maya Skies, however, was a fantastic, original presentation that was well worth the price of admission. Something that it did particularly well was its representation of mythology overlaid onto Mayan architecture. For example, in one segment it explained how Mayan step pyramids were constructed so that the shadow of the pyramid's zigzagged corner would be cast on the large stone "railing" beside its central staircase. As the sun went down, this zigzag would shift, waffle, and wave. Because the base of the staircase's railing was a giant carved serpent's head, this created the appearance of the serpent slithering down the pyramid, literally descending from the heavens. (You can see the reality of this process on YouTube here; the planetarium shows more of a "mind's-eye" experience of it.) It was a fascinating and welcome take on how architecture can be modeled on mythology and used to create a magical, meaningful experience of it.

As far as special exhibits go, I would highly recommend this one. One of the joys of living in Boston is the way in which our museums go to great lengths to inform and educate us. Particularly in history and culture, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science have created fantastic opportunities like these. It is very nice to see that tradition continue. Kudos to the Museum of Science for creating not just a fully immersive Mayan environment to explore, but also the excellent Tales of the Maya Skies. Stop in while you still can!

Til next time!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Really Good Deal

This is not the world's biggest secret, but it is good information to know (especially if your back is aching from all of the shoveling that the past three weeks have required): When a parking ban is declared by the mayor in Boston, parking garages throw open their bay doors to residents. And this is the best part -- it is for a reduced rate.

The best accommodation that I have encountered in the past few years is the parking at the Landmark Center in Fenway [Brookline Street]. For a mere $5 a day, you can avoid an extended shovel-out session for each storm. I avoided this past storm for a three day stay at the Landmark, saving almost $100 off the regular rate! All you have to do is show proof of residence. To find restricted streets and reduced-rate parking, head over to the city's page.

Having been on both sides of the dilemma, I would certainly recommend cracking out the wallet rather than the shovel -- especially with this winter's brutal storms.

Til next time!

Monday, February 9, 2015

So. Much. Snow.

At this point, I think it is something like day 17 of Snowmageddon. I am not completely sure; I just know that it has been snowing, and it has been snowing for a long, long time. And at this point, I don't even know what the full local impact is. Buses are delayed, trains are not running, some cars will be unrecoverable until May, and many two lane roads have been halved, causing large (but not uncomfortable) delays due to the typically patient New England turn-taking approach to sharing one lane on a two way road. Har har.

In a few weeks, we will hear from the various news outlets that this surge of storms cost X amount of dollars, Y number of hours of overtime, and Z amount in lost profit for local businesses.

It's that Z that is the most troubling, I think. We all know someone with a tie to a local business, and we have probably all seen the various ups and downs of its ownership. If you are lucky enough to work from home or have a snow day, it might be worth it, then, to boot up, parka up, scarf up -- whatever it takes -- to brave the great outdoors for a block or two. Get a cuppa from a nearby coffee shop. Have a pastry from a close-by bakery. Grab a slice from the local pizza joint. You'll probably enjoy a little bit of fresh air, anyways. It hasn't been easy being so cooped up!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying move mountains; if walking outside in this weather is reasonably safe, comfortable, and seems genuinely pleasant, then go for it! And remember, common sense and directives from the mayor and governor supersede any recommendation that I might make.

If you are stuck inside, then try to make the most of it. Start up that Netflix, enjoy whichever locally-sourced treat you may have picked up, and spend some time resting your feet on the couch (you work hard!). If you're feeling a bit inspired, make some art, read a new book, or call a family member you haven't spoken to in a while. Or, if time has gotten away from you in the post-Christmas season, catch up on some cleaning.

Just because it's Snowmageddon outside doesn't mean it has be a lost day inside.

But don't forget about those things you may have left out. ;)

Til next time!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Good Coffee... at Home!

Heads up to all interested parties: Trader Joe's on Memorial Drive in Cambridge is selling off these amazing three-packs of coffee beans for only $4.99! If you are a person of refined coffee tastes - but not quite a coffee snob - this is perhaps a good use of that five dollar bill you just found crumpled up in your laundry. It sure makes for some nice coffee at a great price, anyways, and why wouldn't you want that in the midst of our third major snow storm in as many weeks?

Til next time!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Beatles Throwback

I have to preface this by saying that my parents have possibly the best collective taste in music.

Thanks to my mother I was introduced to the Beatles, Elton John, and Tom Petty. Thanks to my father, I was introduced to Ray Charles, B.B. King, Lou Rawls, Roy Orbison, and even Kris Kristofferson (well, his song-writing, anyways). Thanks to both of them, my fiancee and I, her parents, my aunt, and my parents were at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford for the January 16th concert by the Beatles tribute band 1964.

What a good time!

The foursome that makes up the present day replica of Paul, John, George, and Ringo are fantastic. They sound like the Beatles. They play like the Beatles. They even joke and rag on each other like the Beatles. While it is true that the band has plenty of artists doing covers, there is only one that has been labelled the "best on Earth" by Rolling Stone.1 They are, in all sincerity, a living, breathing museum.

Having grown up with their music playing through my parents' (first) tape decks and (then) CD players, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. And, having read The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson, I thrilled at how close the performance was to the vibe of the early days that was set out in the biography's pages. I can't imagine a better way to revisit the history of the band than pairing a read-through of the graphic novel with a ticket to 1964.

Throughout the entire evening, it was incredibly easy to forget the time and place. (Though it is true that every once in a while a flash went off that quite literally shed light on the present era and locale.) Multiple times I had to remind myself that I was still, in fact, watching a cover band and not the real thing. Between the banter and the set list - 1964 easily switching from the mega hits to the lesser-known ones - the entire performance had an air of authenticity.

If you find yourself confronted with the opportunity, please, step into this time machine. If you are too young to have experienced the British Invasion firsthand (like me), you will understand all of the intangibles about the early Rock and Roll movement that words and stories can't always deliver. If you lived the Beatles experience, then get ready for it all over again.

Til next time!

The One Part of the Apartment that I (Mostly) Decorated

Velcome to my bar. Ah ah ah.

Not sure why the Dracula voice snuck in there... perhaps it's because I am rereading it. And perhaps because he is such an excellent (read: not) host to Jonathan Harker.