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Get Stuff Done

Feigned sobriety, unopposable thumbs, mornings done right, obsessive winking, sweet-talk for hire, how we’re always right, why red is better than apple, and whose rack we were ogling while almost getting arrested.

ART OF THE HOW

We’re inept. Or at least that’s what the recent surge in how-to sites and services is telling us. But it’s okay, because we are indeed inept. About some stuff, that is — you know, that whole the-more-you- know-the-more-you-don’t-know thing that comes with the curious mind — so it’s great to have resources on how anything is done.

HowcastOur favorite so far: Howcast, the brain child of ex-Googlers and YouTubers. It’s user- generated content curated by the editorial eye to bring you super useful how-to videos on anything from chilling a 6-pack in 3 minutes, to lying and getting away, to making your bathroom eco-friendly. Better yet, it’s all high-quality and free. And even better yet, the Howcast vision is all about giving emerging filmmakers a chance to get experience and exposure, then fusing it all with content distribution and smart advertising. We dig.

Then there’s Quamut (Latin for “how to”) — an enormous how-to library, complete with printable charts written by experts and reviewed by fact-checkers. A Geekipedia, if you will, that’s both super accurate and super useful. Quamut comes from Barnes & Noble, which means, of course, there’s a price sticker somewhere. But it’s not too bad — you can view everything online for free, you just need to suck up $2.95 if you want to download a PDF of something. And if you’re really compelled to go old-school with all the bells and whistles, you can scurry over to an actual Barnes & Noble store and cough up $5.95 for a laminated copy of select Quamuts. (This is where we point, laugh and remind you of Howcast.)

Finally, let’s not forget the power of collaboration and popular wisdom: wikiHow is a wiki-based resource where users can contribute to the how-to’s of various subjects. Think of it as collaborative how-to manual that’s much like a hands-on Wikipedia. It’s got a Creative Commons license, comes in 6 languages, and has a decidedly philanthropic feel with a vision of improving quality of life through practical knowledge.

So if you ever find yourself wallowing in ineptitude, do check out one of these great resources. Now we’re off to learning how to make a water gun alarm clock for those can’t-get-out-of-bed mornings. (Which are NOT due to not having seen the very amusing yet informative “How To Fake Being Sober” video.)

DEMOCRACY OF THUMB

And speaking of popular wisdom, Rules of Thumb offers all sorts of nifty, well, rules of thumb, each rated on a usefulness scale (1-10) by the populus. The whole thing is searchable and browsable by subject. And we dig their definition of “rule of thumb” — turning information you have into information you need.

More importantly, we dig the fact that what they’re doing seems to aim at taking the error of many out of the whole time-tested “trial and error” paradigm by learning from the error of a few.

That’s where we make our very lame indeed pun about giving it the thumbs-up. What, we held off for an entire paragraph.

WHAT YOU FEEL IS WHAT YOU GET

And of course, getting stuff done has to always start with getting in the right mindset. Which often involves starting the day off on the right foot — and what righter foot than a feel-good outlook?

feelgood.pngThat’s where the feel good initiative comes in. It’s a very simple, very smart concept: every day, there’s a new song uploaded along with some quick extra stuff (mostly artist’s website). That’s it. The idea is you start your morning there and listen to the daily song along with your coffee and newspaper. Some days, the song will be a response to a previous day’s. All days, it’ll be inspiring, refreshing and sure to put you in the right mood to face the day.

And if you’re not the surprise kind of person, if you have a specific craving for a song you already know, there’s Songerize — a supremely basic site where you just type in the name of an artist and/or song, and it just pulls it up and starts playing. Brilliant.

It’s the stripped-down version of the also brilliant SeeqPod music search engine, there to make your music wishes come true at the click of a mouse. Plus, it actually works — it found all but one of the tracks we tested, including stuff on the off-mainstream side (like our latest obsession, Kate Nash). So what are you craving to hear right now?

STALKER 2.0

It starts innocently enough. You need to look up a friend’s mailing address. But then before you know it, you’re digging up dirt on your ex, your “good girl” coworker, your nasty brother in law, and worse yet, you get all crazy-eyed and jittery with excitement about it. If you don’t like that image, proceed with caution. And if you’re screaming “GIMME!,” indulge. Now onto the goodies:

There’s the everyone-knows-this White Pages reverse phone number lookup — great for those could-be-mysterious-could-be- creepy missed calls. Then there’s Zaba Search, the free people search that digs up all sorts of public info on your searchee, including address and date when the address was recorded — so when you get multiple listings for someone, you can spot their current residence. Good idea, but didn’t work for many of the people we tried. (What, it was research…)

Which is how we get to our favorite: Wink. Wink searches over 330 million people across pretty much all existing social networks — on many of which people list their full name, address, school, workplace, interests and more.

And you can search by even more variables: full name, username (love this one), city, state, zip, country, province, career, tags, even keywords based on the person’s interests. We tried it and it’s no joke how much our friends reveal online — we were able to find every single person we searched, most complete with mugshots. And Wink doesn’t just search regular folks. It’s integrated with news services, so you can get the latest scoop on your favorite celeb.

So next time you get all hot and bothered over your MySpace conversation with cutehottie4u, you can track down the 43-year-old computer programmer typing away the hot stuff from his cube in Ohio. And if you get all Wink-obsessed, you can get their plugin and search straight from your browser anytime, or download the Wink widget, which lets you tell people where you are online all the time — particularly useful if you’re trying to promote yourself in the digital world. Better yet, you can create a Wink profile for yourself to really manage your online presence and how it’s presented to the world.

Smart, nifty, and oh-so-handy. We love.

REPUTATION REMEDY

But what happens if you just Winked yourself and found some, um, less than presentable stuff? Worse yet, what if there’s a public record of your careless youth somewhere on the web where you have no control? That’s when DefendMyName comes in — think of it as a reputation management program that specializes in removing negative listings about you and replacing them with good stuff. Using search optimization and a few other strategy, DMN promises to mitigate negative blog posts, customer reviews, news stories and other public info about you or your brand.

Hands down, we’re not crazy about the idea — whatever happened to transparency and the whole authenticity shebang? We get enough of politics as is. But we gotta give it to those guys for finding a clever, however ethically questionable, way to exploit the combination of people’s propensity to fuck up and the ever-growing power of the Internet.

UNTRIVIA

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Some time ago, we made a big bold claim that consumer reviews were actually the real beginning of social networking. And now, thanks to the good folks at eMarketer, we have even more proof for just how much importance consumers place on each others’ opinions and recommendations when shopping. Turns out…

  • …22% of consumers always read reviews, 43% do so most of the time, 33% read them occasionally, and only 2% never do.
  • …the majority (68%) require 4 or more reviews before they make a decision to buy, and 22% won’t settle for less than 8
  • …64% place peer reviews on their wish list for all websites, above anything else, including special offers and coupons
  • …product reviews by peers are the most frequently visited (55%) product research tool, trumping comparison charts (22%), expert reviews (21%) and shared shopping lists (1%)

No wonder last year, for the first time in retail history, customer satisfaction with online retailers surpassed that with brick-and-mortar stores. By 12%, which is a lot. On a 100-point scale, online retail scored 83 points and offline got an underwhelming 71. And Amazon, the mother of all reviews, topped the chart with 88 points. Could the reviews have something to do with it? (You’re nodding vigorously now, right? Just making sure.)

PICTURE THIS

After last week’s huge upgrade to the image search process, we seem to be on a roll. This week’s hot pick: retrievr, an experimental color recognition system that lets you draw with colors on a digital canvas and delivers image results from Flickr that feature the space/color combination you sketched out. Or, if you’re not into drawing, you can upload an image and retrievr hunts down images with similar space/color schemes.

retrievr.jpg

Although the algorithm doesn’t recognize shapes (say you sketch the rough outline of an apple), it does match colors and the colors’ spatial position within the image.

Sounds awkward and complicated explained, but it’s actually incredibly simple and brilliant — so see for yourself.

BP

No Rim Kiss Needed

Who knew we were into basketball.

BIG MAN BIG DREAM

The one and only Dwight Howard, all 6 feet, 11 inches, 270 pounds of him, preps and plots for this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. The bounce-off-the-backboard dunk is sick.

The dude means business…

BP

New Ways of Doing

Extreme fathers, liberating stuff that won’t get you arrested, constraining stuff that’ll liberate you, a 30-pound lump, couture with a conscience, why spices are hot, how the Germans do it, and where to find the world’s most available man.

FATHER’S EYE

AlisonWe don’t like contrived adages. Which is why we have a really hard time swallowing “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” But, somehow, it’s the only thing that springs to mind while looking, hypnotized and stunned, at Jack Radcliffe’s photoseries Alison.

The passionate photographer took the usual new parent excitement over photographing his firstborn to unusual heights. Over the course of 30 years, he stole candid photos of his daughter, Alison, capturing anything from pre-school ballet practice to scary-makeup, grumpy-faced, cigarette-swinging teen angst to peace-of-mind-exuding adulthood.

The camera became a part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness.” ~ Jack Radcliffe

Beyond being an amazing exercise in being part of his daughter’s life without judgment or censorship, the project also gave Radcliffe a profound appreciation and understanding of human relationships in all of their extremities, intimacies and fluidity.

See what he saw — it’ll be worth it even if it extracts from you only a fraction of the rich emotion that so clearly inspired it.

IMAGE REIMAGINED

And while we’re exploring the rich emotional world of visual media, how about something to make the exploration experience itself richer? We have an official favorite Firefox add-on: PicLens. It’s designed to transform your web image browsing into a fully immersive 3D experience, both stunning and functionally efficient.

PicLensWhenever you search for images on Google, Yahoo, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, MySpace and more, PicLens turns your screen into an “interactive wall” on which you can drag, zoom, click, scroll and just awe at your search results. There’s even a search box within the interface that lets you search the web for images right in the 3D view.

Our favorite feature: say you do a Google image search for “brain.” The traditional way, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results sprawled across hundreds of thousands of pages. Who has the time and the patience for clicking “NEXT” 100 times? Well, not someone with PicLens: because in PicLens, all the resulting images show up in the endless 3D wall, which you can just keep scrolling through until you spot exactly what you need.

Fast, fun, and incredibly liberating. Available for both Mac and PC.

PICTURELESS PICTURE BOOK

But, hey, don’t let the absence of image stop you from having a rich visual experience. It didn’t stop photographer Michael David Murphy. In 2004, he took a trip to Ethiopia, but was forbidden from bringing a camera — in a lot of Muslim countries, photography is shunned, especially if it entails photographing women. So he found himself in a curious new world full of compelling image, but unable to capture it.

Until he discovered words, that is. Driven by the burning need to capture (and aren’t all great discoveries kindled by a burning need?), he came up with Unphotographable — a collection of missed opportunities, moments he was unable to photograph, a “catalog of exceptional mistakes.” He lives in literary sin, but his endless run-on strings of simple words are Shakespearean in their conceptual impact.

unphotographable.png

Besides the originality of the concept, we love how it fails at the failure to capture — because, as a reader, you can’t not build an image in your mind’s eye. Call it human imagination. Call it visual assembly. But, really, it’s just that same old proxy photography our brains are wired for, the kind inherent to all storytelling.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

THE OTHER ECO-TRASH CONNECTION

No more Filthadelphia. As of 2008, Philly is sporting its very first BigBelly solar-powered garbage compactor at the corner of 36th and Chestnut, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s continued push for sustainability. (Penn is already one of the largest buyers of wind energy on the East Coast and, at 27%, gets more of its power from wind than any other higher-education entity in North America — possibly the world.)

Posing like a regular big trash can, the BigBelly has a 30-watt solar panel on its top that charges the battery powering the compactor. From there, it compresses the whole bellyful of trash into a single 30-pound lump. (Which happens to be how much trash the average American produces per week.) That way, waste management folks need to take far fewer trips to empty it — a traditional bin of the same capacity in that location would have to be emptied 3-4 times per day, while this friendly chubs only takes 3 trips per week.

truck.jpgEight times the efficiency comes with ten times the coolness: the BigBelly is equipped with WiFi, which it uses to send cleaning folk a signal once it’s full. And in case it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia, BigBelly needs just one day of sunlight to power it for the whole week.

Sure, it may come with a $5,000 price tag. And we may wish everyone just recycled everything. And we may, for that matter, hold our breath until all man-made materials were recyclable and non-toxic. But we have to applaud a step in the right direction when we spot one — and given that American garbage trucks alone consume over 20 million gallons of fuel per week, the BigBelly is a pretty gigantic step.

GREEN AND GORGEOUS

Okay, so sustainability doesn’t have to reek — it gets a lot more glamorous than garbage. Just take what went down the other day at the opening of New York Fashion Week.

Top-notch designers joined the Earth Pledge by sending designs made from recycled, renewable, reusable, organic, non-polluting fabrics down the FutureFashion runway.

Whether it’s organic cotton in Jeffrey Chow or hemp in Derek Lam, the collections were anything but granola, ranging from street wear to evening couture — organic wool, bamboo, corn-based fibers, recycled biopolymers and all.

We won’t judge how much of it is bandwagoning and greenwashing. We’re just glad fashion consumers are being educated about the options out there, about the big ocean of difference that all the little drops of choices add up to.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWhile we don’t like to call ourselves “trend-hunters” (because it sounds just sooo untrendy…), we do like to throw a prediction out every once in a while. And now is one such once. This one is about nutrition science and health trends.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen our share of “super-foods.” Soy. Green tea. Pomegranate. Acai. Those were the antioxidant powerhouses. And that’s before we even get to the flavonoids in red wine and chocolate. Or the heart-saving, cholesterol-reducing omega-3’s in fish and nuts. After each super-food reached a tipping point in both science and social buzz, you’d see it pop up on the ingredients label, then move up-front-and- center on the packaging of any food that could claim even a molecule.

spices.jpgRecently, more and more research has emerged on the powerful health benefits of various spices, from some shared attributes like high antioxidant content, cancer-fighting potency and antibacterial, to the specific health benefits of each. (The irony, of course, is that all these herbs and spices have been recognized and used for their medicinal properties for centuries in various Asian, African, European and South American cultures, who most likely arrived at them the old-school way: trial and error. But we had to wait for that exact same process to be performed in our fancy-shmancy research labs, published in our pompous peer-reviewed medical journals, and regurgitated for us by the mass media. And now we’re eating it all up.)

There’s cinnamon, found to keep blood sugar in check. Cayenne pepper, which improves blood flow, fights heart disease and wards off headaches. Ginger, a powerful digestion aid and a killer of ovarian cancer cells. Garlic, with its strong antibiotic properties and protective value against heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The latest super-spice: turmeric. The orange-yellow powder, better known to us common folk as an ingredient in those delish Indian curries, contains curcuminoids — active ingredients now recognized for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which in turn help fight cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We could go on, but there’s a bigger point here.

And the point is that medicinal super-spices — and we stand by this one with enormous conviction — are the next big nutrition trend. They’ll soon be popping up in everything from beverages to cereals to energy bars and more. We’ll go work on our toldja-so dance now.

FORM, FUNCTION AND FILLET MIGNON

All that food talk got us hungry. And since we’re multitaskers at heart, it’s hard not to appreciate the brilliant concept of the Cook-N-Dine grill tables. Combining a table and a flameless grill, they offer a perfect fusion of appliance and furniture, of German utilitarianism and Japanese design sensibility.

Beneath the sleek German stainless steel surface lie three concentric functional circles. The flameless grill, in the middle, heats up to 450 degrees quickly, then the innermost part sinks down to collect any cooking juices. Once cooking is done, it rises back up. And the outermost dining area stays cold all throughout.

They come in various shapes and sizes, you can even install one on your bar-top or order a custom design. Pretty nifty, to the point of fully justifying its $1,600 price tag.

PLEASE STAY ONLINE

And speaking of upgrading old-school stuff and simplifying by multitasking, what better candidate than the familiar experience of a doctor’s appointment, complete with the 40-minute average wait time, the mounds of paperwork, the rude staff, and the germy waiting area? Dr. Jay Parkinson believes it doesn’t have to be that way. And he means business.

Dr. JayThe good doctor is the world’s first online-only-based physician who makes house calls and house calls only. His “office” is a website that looks more RGA than MD. And his credentials are as solid as the best of those found on brick-and- mortar walls.

But under the clean, Applesque design lies amazing functionality — the doc makes it all look so simple and effortless, from enrolling as a patient to reaching him anytime, any way you desire. (He’s always available on cell phone, email, IM, and MSN messenger.) And if you’re uninsured, he does some simple math for you to showcase how his service isn’t just better, it’s also much cheaper.

The doc is so progressive that he even deserted his traditional WordPress blog, deeming the concept too outdated and unsuitable for his mobile, tech-driven lifestyle. Instead, he moved to Tumblr where he can post via email, cell phone and IM.

At the very least, even if you’re insured and happily lugging yourself across waiting rooms, checking out his site will give you an even deeper understanding of (and contempt for) the devastating, penny-sucking bureaucracies of the medical industry. Sicko that.

BP

SPECIAL: Because It Is

A convergence of heart, mind and music, intensely driven to change the process of change itself. If there ever was a promised land, this is its frontier.

SONGS OF CHANGE

We rarely get inspired by celebrities or politics or mass movements of any sort. Which is why we’re even more adamant about sharing this particular piece of inspiration.

After Barack Obama‘s New Hampshire primary night speech, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas found himself captivated, inspired and ready to exorcise his overwhelming disappointment with the “unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful, corrupt” process of the last election…in a positive, pro-active way.

So he called up a ton of his celebrity friends and created this truly moving video based on Obama’s speech.

We’ll just say that in this overwhelmingly celebrity-driven, superficial culture, it’s both tremendously inspiring and humbling to see celebrities singing back vocals, literally and metaphorically, to something much bigger and more powerful, to a movement and an ideology that can forever change minds, culture and society at large.

So vote, will.ia?

BP

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