The update from downtown Baltimore is thus: my white blood cell count is still below average, trending slightly downward since a post-surgery high point in August of 2020. Everything else in the bloodwork seems to be leveled off and within normal ranges, with the exception of lymphocytes and eosinophil, which are specialized white blood cells. We are told that my lymphocytes may never rise to pre-cancer levels as a result of chemotherapy, and I’d guess eosinophil is probably the same. The CT scan showed no new passengers, and my oncologist seems pretty positive about everything. So, that’s good! I’ll take it. If I make it to the five year checkup in October with a clean bill of health they say the chance of any new tumor drops dramatically; let’s hope my rare surprise doesn’t return.
I’ve been wearing my Vaer watch almost exclusively the last couple of months, but knowing I was going to start welding class regularly I figured I should switch to one of my utility watches. I wore my LL Bean watch, and during class I was wondering why time was moving so slowly—until I realized the minute hand was stuck and not advancing. This is not the first time this watch has been in the shop for repairs. I’ve been waiting on having the Ollech & Wajs diver tuned up, but now that I have two that need servicing, there’s more of a push to visit a repair shop. For now, my Timex will work just fine for shop use.
A couple of months ago, two writers from one of my favorite sites, Jalopnik, quit that site and started up a car blog of their own: the Autopian. David Tracy has always been a great read; his exploits with busted jeeps, insane wrenching projects and cross-country shitbox trips are the stuff of internet legend. His partner Jason Torchinsky was the weird beating soul of Jalopnik from its inception, writing about taillights, strange Chinese electric vehicles, and his Nissan Pao, as well as being the illustrator for many of its articles. They have assembled a crew of writers covering odd engineering history, daily car news, bizarre car-related videos, and other random stuff—basically a better version of Jalopnik with more personality and less corporate bullshit (as well as many fewer ads). I don’t see a subscription system set up yet, but when it comes (as it is for Defector) I will gladly send them money. More of this, please.
There are a whole slew of watch-oriented websites out there, and the majority of them feature watches that cost more than my car. But there are some that are geared towards people like me, with budgets like mine, but who want something better than what they can get at the local Walmart.
Worn & Wound reviews a lot of mid-tier watches that range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. I like how they structure the reviews and their selection fits neatly within my aesthetic—military/diver without a lot of glitz. And, the cards used for listing their reviews clearly show the case size, which is a huge timesaver for me.
They reviewed a retro diver by a company called Baltic that I really dig; it’s both the right size and the right design for me—a 38mm case with minimal complications and just the right amount of color. I’m not a fan of watches that look like they were dipped in gold or covered with dials, and this design has just the right balance of color and utility. It’s way outside my price point but I’ll keep an eye on it. Even further outside that price point is the GMT variant, which adds a pricy Swiss movement and a date function. I really dig the split-color bezel though—the blue over orange is beautiful.
Two Broke Watch Snobs is a similar vibe—they focus on mid-tier watches, although they do sometimes venture into the land of $3K Omegas and other higher-dollar brands. They have a podcast, which sounds like it would be monumentally boring, but their written reviews are detailed and thorough.
A Blog To Watch has their reviews split into under $500 and over $500, which is handy, and the reviews are excellent. Apparently they’ve been around for a while so there’s a lot to dig into there.
I found a unique retro diver there that looks very cool even though it’s at my size limit (38mm is my sweet spot, and this is 40mm) but I’d consider it for ~$300.
Professional Watches has reviews that date back to 2013, but their site navigation is shit and the pages take forever to load. Their review section is laid out as cards but you’ve got to continually hit a “load more” button at the bottom to see anything. They split reviews into over and under $1000 and feature a wide assortment of styles, from dainty evening watches to goofy G-shock models that look like they came out of a Kirby drawing. Still, the depth is appreciated, even if I’m only interested in 5% of their articles. Looking through the high-end models is funny; there are some staggeringly elegant watches and some that look like they were barfed up from a bad steampunk novel.
Additionally, I found a good resource on cheap military watches made by Timex in the ’70’s and ’80’s; I remember a barrel of these for sale in the old H&H Surplus store in Baltimore when I was in college.
At a party this past Halloween, I was talking with a bunch of people in a circle, and one of the guests pointed out my watch and asked me what kind it was. I told him it was an Ollechs & Wajs, that I’d gotten it at an estate sale (an easier explanation than the reality), that it was vintage from 1970, and at the bottom tier of their catalog. He told me he’d seen it from across the room and was a watch guy himself, and we geeked out over watches for about 10 minutes while his wife knowingly rolled her eyes. He was wearing a huge TAG Heuer tuna can, but mentioned he’d slowly been collecting nice watches as his business became more successful. It was cool to talk with him, and we shook hands and parted ways.
Watches have been in the back of my mind for a while, but I’m very hesitant to buy anything when we have so many other essentials and priorities around the house these days. That’s not to say the manufacturers haven’t been trying. My Instagram feed is sprinkled with watch porn among the Scouts and #vanlife and occasional post from someone I actually know, and I admit I’ve followed some of those links and looked seriously at some of the examples until I saw the price. That’s usually enough to end the investigation in its tracks. Horology is expensive.
One of those Instagram trips led me to Vaer watches and I’ve been looking at them for the last couple of years. I was drawn to their line but never thought about buying one because of cost and size—most of their line are 41mm cases, which is too big for my wrist. And half of their stuff is assembled in Switzerland so it’s $700 beyond my price point. They specialize in modern updates of classic design patterns without being too fussy, gaudy or supersized. Their divers look really good but I’m betting they’d be sized the same as the Timex I tried last year, although it was more about the proportions on that one that soured me.
In 2021 they introduced a throwback Korean War era field watch, smaller in size and taking cues from Bulova and Waltham designs made for the Army. Those watches were used hard, and working survivors are expensive. Usually they’re inoperative and need to be rebuilt. I’ve had an alert set on Watch Patrol for months but never found the right one. I looked over the Vaer watch and considered it carefully, then bookmarked the link and let it go. But I kept on going back to the page to look at it. That’s usually never a good sign. I was strong until I got a huge sale alert from Vaer after New Years, and I figured I’d never get a better chance and ordered one.
Buying watches sight unseen is tricky and they usually are larger than I’d prefer them to be. Overall I really like the size and shape of this case; it seems larger than something advertised as 36mm, but on my wrist it looks to be just the right size. In comparison with my other watches it’s right between the Hamilton and the LL Bean in scale. The case thickness is perfect—I don’t notice it getting caught on sleeves or bumping into things on my wrist.
The case is shiny, something I’m not as thrilled with—I’d prefer brushed metal to polished, but it doesn’t sour me on the design. The face is where the throwback design really comes in. They mimicked the big fat hand-painted tritium numbers from the 1950’s with a secondary set of hash marks around the outer edge, which I like. The numbers are colored slightly brown, which matches the tan Vaer strap I put on it. The strap looks nice but is twice as thick as it needs to be; wearing it out of the box pinched my radial artery painfully until I worked stiffness out of it like a baseball glove. It has no date feature, setting it apart from the other field watches I own, but I don’t mind that. It’s an extremely quiet movement and keeps excellent time; I’m really happy with it and haven’t taken it off my wrist since it got here. So I think I’m set for field watches.
Meanwhile, the movement in the Ollech & Wajs has gotten bound up, so I’ve got to bring it back in to the watch guy who originally fixed it to have him sort it out for me, and then I have to be more careful about how I wind it.
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.