Some shiny things that caught my eye this week: An article that goes through the do’s and don’ts of buying antique Soviet film cameras. I’ve read different things about how awesome and how faulty they can be so it’s nice to have someone detail the pros and cons of various models and lenses. I still need to try putting film through the Zeiss TLR I’ve got sitting on the shelf to see if I can get it to work, so the chances of me buying one of these is zero.
Also, I’ve had a search set up through WatchPatrol for months for a cheap WW2/Korean vintage A17 field watch that would alert me when a working example came up for sale. Given the amount that were issued I would have thought there were barrels of them in a warehouse somewhere, available for $30 each. Apparently not. Vaer watches has designed an updated quartz version of the traditional Korean War-era vintage A17 in a 36mm case, which is the perfect size for my wrist. They’re quality movements, so they don’t come cheap, but if I had $200 laying around I’d grab one.
I wasn’t aware of this, but the password manager I’ve been paying for over the last (7?) years was purchased by a private equity firm at some point in the past year. Surprisingly, they have suddenly gotten a lot more bitchy about their free service. Most of what I’ve read suggests moving to LogMeIn or Bitwarden as an alternative, which I’ll have to consider if/when they try to monetize me further.
Hey! Look who’s back and strapped to my wrist! This time I didn’t even get a courtesy call from LL. Bean; they just fixed it and rushed it back to me ASAP. It’s nice to have my old friend close again.
I got a very nice call from a lady in Maine a few days ago, who let me know my LL Bean field watch was repaired and that she needed my debit card info to pay for things and send it back. Apparently the repair tech found a crystal that was compatible and put all the parts back together. Happily, I completed the transaction, and yesterday a package arrived on our doorstep. This is what came out of the plastic bag when I opened things up:
Obviously, there’s been a terrible mistake. I don’t think I’m going to be able to read this watch when it’s on my wrist. So I’ve got two choices: I can send it back to LL Bean to see if they can set things right, which will take another week or two, or I can see if the guy in Union Station with the little watch repair stand can open the case and spin the movement 40˚ for me.
In the last couple of years before he passed, Rob was in to modding watches. His particular specialty was working with the Seiko brand, which are competitively-priced but high quality models that allow for mixing and matching of parts and cases. In the course of his hobby, he was really experienced at pulling watches apart and putting them back together.
When I broke the crystal on my LL Bean field watch for the second (third?) time, I looked in to having LL Bean replace it, but for some reason I thought they ended the repair service for that model years ago. (FYI my entry on watch repair shows up as Google’s seventh search result). I asked Rob if he could take a look at it, and he happily agreed.
It languished with him for several years, and given all that happened, I knew it was sitting safely in a box somewhere at Karean’s house. When I was over a few weekends ago, we found ourselves looking through some storage boxes in the garage for unrelated reasons, and she showed me the watch storage bins Rob kept. In the bottom drawer, tucked away in small ziplock bags, we found my watch disassembled in six pieces: the case, the movement, the broken crystal, the back, the crown, and the battery. The crystal is cracked and there was no replacement with the other parts, so I’ve got to find one and have it put back together.
The representative at LL Bean claims they will in fact replace the crystal and repair the watch—but I’m not holding my breath, because I’m aware it’s over 20 years old. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try the repair service who fixed my diver’s watch and have him put a sapphire crystal in it for durability. Then I’ll find a new band for it and put it into rotation. It’ll be good to have the OG back on my wrist again.
As an amateur horologist, I’m always looking at watches. My collection is small but I have dreams of expanding it carefully over the years; I’m especially interested in field watches of different makes and types, and I have a few that I’d like to own someday.
Meanwhile, I’ve looked askance at the Apple Watch for years, thinking it would be a nice toy to have but nothing I needed to run out and buy. Part of this was the price, and part of it was the watch itself: I enjoy having a ticking, mechanical device on my wrist. I appreciate the craftsmanship of real watches, especially the kind with little dials on them that spin around and make me work to tell time.
After Christmas, I came home from my Mom’s house with a FitBit originally intended for my Dad, and I have to admit, the base functions on that watch changed my opinion on digital watches: knowing what kind of sleep I was getting was hugely valuable for making positive changes to my circadian rhythms, knowing how much exercise I got on a daily basis was helpful, and being able to see texts on my wrist was gimmicky but admittedly pretty cool.
A few weeks ago, my neighbor and I were working in the bathroom (he’s the electrician) and I noticed he was answering a call on his Apple watch. We got to talking about it and his review was effusive. He had it for a year and he loved it. His one complaint was that the screen was too small for him to read—it’s comforting to see middle age is hitting other folks as hard as it is me—and then he abruptly asked if I wanted to buy his, because he was looking at buying a Series 4 in a larger size. I impulsively took him up on it, as the price was excellent and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
It’s a Series 3 in a 42mm case, which is as large as I’d ever want to go with a watch of any kind. On my wrist it’s fatter and larger than any of the other watches I own, but it doesn’t feel too big, which was the gamble I made on it when I said yes. It came with an nylon sport band, a black neoprene sport band, and all the packaging. It’s in great shape with only a few nicks on the face of the glass—but I, uh, tend to like things with a little character.
It’s also a GPS+Cellular model, and from the small amount of research I’ve done it looks like I can add it to our main cell plan for $10/mo. It will share the same number as my iPhone but once it’s set up, I’ll be able to make calls with the watch on my wrist. That’s some serious Dick Tracy shit right there.
I’ve been getting interested more and more about wristwatches, beginning with the LL. Bean field watch I got for Christmas 25 years ago to the Ollech & Wacjs diver I rescued from the Mildew House and repaired last year. I’m pretty finicky with the look and feel of my watches, like everything else, but I tend to favor military field-type watches and some basic diver models, but nothing too overdone or oversized for my relatively small wrist. Mostly by accident, the two “expensive” watches I own are mechanical–I wind them every day. At first I found this annoying but over time I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of each individual watch through their care and feeding. My Hamilton likes 12 full winds. The O&W likes about 20, but loses 4 minutes every 24 hours. Each has a date display, but the O&W only has a single adjustment on the post, which means I have to advance the watch through 24 hours to advance the date one day. It’s a pain in the ass, but it has character. I love the way they both look and feel, and I’ll never stop wearing them.
Meanwhile, I’ve kept an eye on the Apple Watch, wondering if I’d ever need something like it, and if it would ever get to the size where it didn’t look like a plasma TV strapped to my arm. I’ve been told they are life-changing when actually worn, and I’m sure they’re nifty but I haven’t been able to justify the cost to this point. I’ve had a FitBit on my Amazon list for months but haven’t made the leap to that technology yet either–even though the price to entry is much lower.
When I was up in Syracuse the first weekend, Renie offered me the FitBit she’d bought my father for Christmas, still in its original packaging. With a little apprehension I opened the box and strapped it on my wrist the morning I helped my Mom clean Dad’s clothes out the closets and move stuff around the basement. Imagine my surprise that evening when it told me I’d done 8,000 steps and 12 flights of stairs that day. Meanwhile, it was buzzing on my wrist as I got texts from the family. I started getting detailed reports as to my sleep habits (conclusion: I’m not getting enough) and it’s interesting to see what my heart rate is after different activities. For a fledgling data nerd like me, it’s fascinating to be tracking and comparing this stuff.
Overall I like it a lot, even though I miss my mechanical watches for everyday use. I’m going to cycle through them more as I’ve been doing–January was a heavy O&W month, while December was mostly Hamilton–and mix the FitBit in more.
And, even though he never wore it, I’ll think of my Dad when I check my steps–and make sure I stay healthy.
I’m on my third month of decaf, and I have to say I don’t miss caffeine at all. I phased it out after suffering through withdrawal during the biopsy process, and by the time I made it to surgery I was clean. I’m not any sleepier in the morning, and I don’t feel like I need the jolt to keep awake or alert through the day. I still love coffee, and I will still drink decaf until they pry my mug from my cold dead hands. I do wish there was a greater selection of decaf blends available.
Meanwhile, my hair, as shown in the GIF below, has been coming in slowly but surely over the last month. I’ve shaved my goat three times since it got to the hair-in-my-mouth stage, but the hair on my scalp is taking its sweet, sweet time. I’m almost tempted to shave it off again for giggles, but I will admit it’s nice to see some color covering my pasty scalp again.
My stomach has been getting less and less tender. A month ago the beltline under my bellybutton was uncomfortable by the end of the day after constantly rubbing against the fabric of my pants, and I’d have to unsnap the button for some relief. This meant my fly was always sneaking downward, so I’d have to constantly be adjusting my package to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently becoming a target of the #metoo movement. Overall, an embarrassing and annoying situation. Now I can leave my pants snapped for the whole day and don’t notice any irritation unless I’ve been walking super-long distances.
I’ve done some light digging about the watch I found in the Mildew House last year, which was produced by a lesser-known Swiss company called Ollech & Wajs. They were formed in the 1950s and sold via direct mail, thus keeping their overhead and pricing low compared to their peers. In the 1960s they became popular with American military personnel, who replaced their lousy government-supplied watches with better quality timepieces, and the company enjoyed its best years during the Vietnam War. Mechanical timepieces fell out of favor in the ’70s, and O&W closed up shop in the 1980s with the advent of cheap Japanese watches. (O&W was one of the few Swiss makers who never offered a quartz movement). One of the partners opened the business back up in the 1990s and continues to produce watches under the brand name to this day. Interesting trivia: My watch cost $9.50 US in 1970, which equates to about $60 today.
My Hamilton watch is on its way to Secaucus, New Jersey this evening. I was in the shower last week and pulled my towel off the sink, carrying my watch onto the floor, where it stopped working. From what Rob tells me, high-quality mechanical (winding) watches are delicate beasts; the spring and moving parts are held together by millimeters and don’t respond well to shock. While I won’t hide the fact that I’m disappointed, I suppose it’s understandable.
Hamilton is owned by the Swatch Group, who also own the high-end brands Breguet, Longines, and Omega, among others, but their service procedures are straight out of the back of a comic book: You mail your watch to a nonspecific address and hope it gets there, then pray someone acknowledges receipt. No RMS number, no automated service; no way of notifying them you’re sending your expensive timepiece in advance. I’ve had better returns service from counterfeit sidewalk vendors in New York City.
Rob still has my Field Watch, and promises to get to it when he’s not pulling so much overtime. I miss old faithful.
At WRI, I’ve been working on a web project, which has been a lot of fun: I’m building a workflow to port all of the content from an InDesign file to HTML. I’ve been pushing to get all of our reports online in mobile-ready format, and built a template version using an open-source framework, a handful of jQuery tools, and some elbow grease. I’ve figured out how to get inDesign to spit out basic formatted HTML that gets pasted into the template, cutting back on the tedious work of formatting tables and boxes. The most time-consuming element now is formatting live charts, but I’m tempted to just use images. It’s been a lot of fun, having been away from pure web production for two years, to dive back in and get my hands dirty. I remember more than I give myself credit for, and after some initial roadblocks I got a lot of new technologies hooked up and working correctly. Not bad for an old man.
I’m spending the first couple of days with a gift from Santa: The Hamilton field watch I’d picked out months ago appeared under our tree, and I’ve been wearing it since Christmas day. My first impressions: It’s bigger and heavier than my Field Watch. Overall, I like the dimensions, and I’m getting used to the extra weight. The stock wristband is made for a bigger wrist than mine, which means it likes to slide down behind the far side of my hand, so I put one of the bands from my old watch on it. It looks great, and the crystal is slightly beveled instead of flat. The knob is about three times the size of the one I’m used to, which means it tends to get snagged more on my sleeves. The biggest issue I have with it, though, is the fact that it’s a manual-wind watch, something I didn’t notice on the listing. That’s not a dealbreaker. It just means I have to remember to wind it in the morning and in the evening. I like it a lot. It fits my aesthetic, and I’m keeping it.
In the meantime, my buddy Rob (he of the Seiko modding underground) clued me in to the huge eBay market in replacement watch parts. I did a quick search in the summer and found handfuls of replacement crystals which should fit my trusty Field Watch, so I’m going to drop off the watch and the parts with him to see if he can help me out.
I also found a Benchmade Mini Griptillian in my stocking, as a sidekick to–but not replacement for–my Skeletool. I’ve carried a Leatherman around for the past four years (my first was the original, now residing in the toolbox of the Scout), and I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve used them for different things.
The Benchmade is lightweight, solid, and compact. The blade is razor-sharp and I’ve used it for ten different things this weekend. The action is smooth, and the locking mechanism is rock-solid and impossible to accidentally release. It’s got a pocket clip that reverses to either side based on your preference. I’m still taking the Skeletool most places I go, but the Benchmade will be my slimmed-down companion.
I’ve been trolling the ‘Best-of’ lists and plugging a lot of the individual songs into Spotify to find some new music. One of the tunes on constant repeat is Mike Doughty’s new single ‘Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In the Future‘, which starts out with an odd banjo figure but slides hypnotically into Soul Coughing free-association wordplay territory from there. I’ve always been a fan of MD, in spite of his spite of Soul Coughing, and I really dig this tune.
I have a love/hate of Aphex Twin from back in the day, but ‘minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]‘ from Syro is another heavy rotator. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was a masterful album, but I had a hard time going in some of his more exotic directions. This tune is somewhere in the comfortable middle.
‘Brill Bruisers‘ from the New Pornographers is a third favorite. They have a distinctive sound, which is to say, none of their songs sound the same. This one is a loud stadium sing-along that always gets Finn moving.
For Christmas 1990, I asked Santa for a LL Bean Field Watch, which he kindly left under the tree for me. I’d picked it out of the mail-order catalog in those pre-Internet days, and in a rare instance of luck, it fit my rather small wrist almost perfectly. This was out of character with the rest of my wardrobe at that time, which was baggy and ill-fitting. I had it until about 1997 or so, when I put it on in haste and dropped it somewhere between my apartment and my office in Baltimore City. I’d neglected to tuck the end of the band into the loop and it slipped off my wrist during the bike ride.
Santa gave me an identical replacement that following Christmas, and I’ve had that watch ever since. It’s been with me all over the world and has the scars to prove it–the crystal is cracked, scuffed, and chipped. The nylon band is worn but functional. The battery, dutifully replaced by LL Bean every three years or so, is losing steam again, and several years ago they notified me that they have no more replacements for the crystal–their new Field Watch is a different design. It’s bigger, thicker, and uglier, actually.
I’ve been searching for a replacement for months now, and I’ve narrowed it down to a few candidates. My criteria is simple: the same classic design, a date display, stainless casing, and size. The current trend for all watches seems to be to oversize everything, so it looks like you’ve strapped a tuna can to your wrist. I look ridiculous wearing these watches; I want something that fits my arm.
The gold standard is a Hamilton Field Watch, which set the template during World War II. Unfortunately, these soar high above my price range, mainly because they have a sapphire crystal face, but they’re almost equal in dimension to my current watch. I’d like to buy one of these someday–when I have $300 in discretionary income just laying around.
Next, I looked at the Seiko 5, but ruled it out due to its thickness (13mm). It’s inexpensive but big.
The next contender is a Citizen Eco-Drive field watch, which is slightly wider than my current watch but equal thickness according to the published specs. I like it because it’s self-charging solar through the watch face, and it looks pretty good.
Given all of these choices, I’m going to buy a Citizen when I get some cash together. Not having a watch throws my ADD into chaos, and it’s become an extension of my arm over the last 20+ years.
I also have the option of replacing the crystal on my current watch myself, which I’m going to try. eBay has replacement crystal and toolkits all over the place, and I feel no fear in pulling a laptop apart in my spare time. Plus, my friend Rob has been heavily involved in the Seiko watch modding scene for several years. I may call upon his expertise to help me nurse my ailing friend back to life.