By Maria Popova
We hate to harp on about Last.fm. Ah, who are we kidding — we love to. Because it’s that great. And if for some unbeknownst reason you weren’t sold on the idea the first time (1.0 alert!), here’s a deal-maker: last week, Last.fm announced you can now play full-length tracks and albums on their website (or with the Last.fm player) for free, adding an extra kick of resolution to their ongoing “Social Music Revolution.”
Which is particularly awesome in light of The Last Ripper — a free-download app that saves Last.fm streams to mp3…and even downloads the album artwork. Unfortunately, the nifty app isn’t yet optimized for OS Leopart (which makes us grind our recently- upgraded teeth and grumpily curse one Mr. Jobs), but it must be a matter of time until they catch up.
Meanwhile, all these recent shifts in the music industry are a sign of a bigger trend that will likely forever change the music landscape. Decentralization of the industry is the obvious first step that’s already underway — just look at artist leaving major labels and releasing albums either on their own or with independent labels. Not to mention record labels started by companies whose main business has nothing to do with music. Heck, even MySpace has had its very own for over 2 years.
But beyond the obvious, there’s something much bigger going on.
So while on the subject of music revolutions, here’s a smaller but far more tangible (and audible) one. From family-run and world-distributed company Zelco comes a new kind of earphones that leave the bland iPod buds in the tech dust.
Outi earphones clip outside your ear, producing a totally immersive surround-sound music experience. And because they work via vibrations through the skin and cartilage, they don’t disturb people around you. At the same time, the different sound transmission doesn’t damage your hearing the way traditional in-ear pieces do. Plus, we dig them because you can still hear external sounds that enter your ear the regular way — which means we can bike in them but still be alerted by those lovely expletives drivers yell at us right before they door us.
Sure, they run a little steep: $110.00 plus shipping. But can you really put a price on your music experience?
And speaking of mainstream-defying ventures, this month has really kicked it up on the fashion front. First we had the 10th annual SPIRIT OF FASHION — Berlin’s “other” Fashion Week that calls itself the “home of underground fashion.” The part-trade-show, part-new-talent- showcase is a unique scene-fair concept that draws audiences and buyers from all over Europe.
Then right now we’re witnessing Stockholm’s +46, possibly the biggest venue for up-and-coming designers. The unique platform bridges progressive fashion-makers with buyers, press, and other contacts, all cherry-picked through selective international standards. Which is why the shows manage to sport top-notch “freshion” (our word, mind you) designers like Original Penguin and Nikka New York. Too bad you’re missing it.
But, hey, here’s a fair warning for something along the same lines happening stateside — AGENDA Trade Show, the fashion forum for up-and-coming streetwear designers, is coming up September 4-6 in San Diego. There, you can spot anything from garage-run labels to established elites (including favorites of ours like adidas, Ben Sherman, Converse, Le Tigre, PUMA, Reebok and more), all unified by a “higher level of design and aesthetic.”
If there ever was a weekend to really shape the cool kids’ wardrobe, this would be it. So indulge your inner trend-setter and check it out.
And if you do decide to trek the world’s underground fashion shows, why not do it responsibly? Thanks to Sustainable Travel International, you can find out the exact environmental impact of your travel plans. In its 6th year, the non-profit is out to spread the sustainable tourism bug. And they’re making it a whole lot easier — you can explore their eco-directory of smart destinations, complete with hundreds of choices across every category, location and luxury level.
And here’s the coolest part — they recently partnered up with Continental Airlines and developed a precise carbon offset calculator for flights. You plug in your origin and destination, then it tells you just how many metric tons of carbon dioxide your journey is worth. But they don’t stop at bringing you down — you get four options for carbon offsetting projects you can donate to in the exact amount that would offset your flight’s impact, and you can do it all right there on the site.
Normally, we scoff at such umbrella-after-the-rain approaches that aim to compensate for rather than avoid altogether, but we can’t exactly bike across the Atlantic the way we do across town. So we’ll give these guys props for offering a solution. Plus, the 1.44 metric tons (TONS!) of CO2 our annual escapes to Europe produce kinda caught us frighteningly unawares.
We’ve heard our share of old wives’ health tales. Even our own grandmother used to say eating walnuts, which look like a brain, is actually good for your brain. We used to think perhaps the whole thing was some sort of riddle that helped your brain by means of exercising your gray matter.
Well, turns out Grandma was being completely literal — and right. Alternative health guru and public speaker Don Tolman has looked into some ancient health wisdoms in light of today’s scientific research.
In his Whole Food Signatures, he reveals a bunch of fruits, veggies and legumes with shapes analogous to the body parts whose function they boost. And although were tempted to take ours with a grain of salt, some extra research made us cut the NaCl from this data diet.
Take a carrot. Sliced, it looks like the pupil, iris and radiating lines of the human eye. We all know the orange sticks are so rich in beta-carotene they even lend their name to it. And — guess what — beta-carotene is essential for eye function: it’s converted to retinaldehyde (the formaldehyde form of vitamin A), whose name alone captures his oh-so-important role in retina health.
Or Grandma’s favorite, the walnut. It does look like the human brain, just as it does help it — walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the unsaturated “good” kind of fat), which are essential for brain function and memory. You see, whether or not you sport a 6-pack, your brain is over 60% structural fat. Neurons and cell membranes are almost entirely made of fat. And they need to function properly in order for anything to go in and out. So next time someone calls you a fat head, say “Why, thank you, good sir!” and spit out an obscure factoid about the Chinese fire-bellied water toad.
Then there are peanuts and libido. We’ll refrain from the, um, back-end of this one.
But do check out Don’s entire list — although his research is a bit lacking, we enlisted our own biochemical knowledge and Google to confirm the stuff in more established sources. (Sorry, Wikipedia, no-go on this one.) To Grandma’s delight, it’s pretty much all based on real nutrition science and biochemistry.
Oh, can we count the ways we love Trader Joe’s. One of them has to do with the crew, who are so much smarter, funner and artsier than those elsewhere that we actually don’t feel right even referring to them as “cashiers.” This week, we have tangible proof — our local TJ’s is sporting the very first Trader Joe’s Art Show, turning one wall into a showcase of (actually really damn good) artwork by TJ staffers.
We, always the get-the-storyists, of course chatted up one of the artist, mostly because we were a little taken aback by all the “NOT FOR SALE” signs and wanted to know what the deal was. The artist (who shall remain unnamed) shrugged and looked down, muttering something along the not-our-decision lines.
Turns out, it’s something the Philly crew had wanted to do for quite some time now and were finally given permission (permission?!) by the big guns, who had also said they’d be able to sell the artwork. Except in the last minute, they took away the dangled fruit. Which we thought was a bit of a let-down from a company as typically cool as Trader Joe’s — but we can’t even begin to compare it to just how let down the artists themselves must be feeling.
Still, it’s a brilliant idea and the art is better than what we’ve seen on many of our First Friday rounds, so go check it out if you’re in Philly this month.
Published February 1, 2008