5 Wonderful Things

1. Endless Outre Music
iTunes brought digital music to the mainstream masses, but as a true resource it’s sorely lacking for two reasons: The “digital rights management” technology makes it hard to copy songs between devices; and the catalog has little interesting music. Your time is better spent at the many Web sites devoted to the genre known as “oddio” — short for “odd audio.” These are places where kind souls convert their out-of-print LPs to MP3s, offering an international smorgasbord of auditory delights: 1960s Japanese “British” invasion bands, Midwestern slide-whistle showmen, poems put to mail-order music, 8-bit Casio covers, masters of the steel pan, gospel guitarists, spy-music accordionists, Hungarian dance pop, belly-dance instructional tracks. Want to get started? It’s easy: Google “oddio.”

2. Podcast From the Fringes
Everyone’s on the podcast bandwagon by now, including companies like Purina, which is using the medium to tout its sundry chows to pet owners. But these are technological latecomers. For a podcast from an original futurist, go to www.mondoglobo.net. There you can subscribe to a new show by RU Sirius, the founding editor of Mondo 2000 — a magazine from the early 1990s that covered cyborgs, life extension, designer psychedelics, cut-and-paste creativity, homebrew robotics, computer lib, machine music and artificial life. Twice a week, Sirius does lively interviews with people you’d never hear on any other podcast, like punk prototype Richard Hell, Re/Search book publisher V. Vale, and Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey.

3. Free 411
At home, it costs $1 or more each time you need a number. Cingular charges $1.29, and other wireless services charge even more. Yet 6 billion 411 calls are made each year. I’m guilty too; my cell-phone bill was often $30 over the base rate because of 411 charges. But that era has ended. Earlier this year, a new service launched called 1-800-FREE-411, a stroke of service genius that offers just what it promises. It’s free and works just the same as the $1.29 version, provided you don’t mind listening to an occasional 12-second commercial.

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4. No Crema, No Serva
Even with a top-of-the-line espresso maker (the Rancilio Silvia) and a burr grinder (which yields a more consistently sized grind than a cheaper blade grinder), it’s not easy to produce crema — that tan-colored layer of foam that tops a well-made shot of espresso. (The rule of espresso geeks: “No crema, no serva.”) But a recent recommendation online led me to Black Cat espresso from Intelligentsia coffee. This blend of South American beans — which you can “subscribe” to online, thus ensuring regular shipments of the dusky delicacy — makes a strong, caramely, chocolatey shot of espresso with head of crema so thick, it puts Guinness Stout to shame (www.intelligentsiacoffee.com).

5. Secret Sauerkraut
This one comes from a pre-Internet information source, my 104-year-old grandmother. Turns out sauerkraut sales are up after news that chickens in South Korea survived bird flu after eating the Korean pickled cabbage, kimchi. Researchers speculate that bacteria in fermented cabbage somehow fights influenza viruses. Figuring I’d better add sauerkraut to my avian-flu apocalypse kit, I called my grandmother — who made her own sauerkraut up until age 102 — to get her secret recipe. Her shredded ambrosia was always so tasty, I don’t doubt that it could save lives. And it’s surprisingly simple to make: shred a head of cabbage, toss it with a teaspoon or two of salt, pack and tamp it down into a glass jar, and place a rock wrapped in plastic on top (to force the cabbage to stay below the surface of the brine that forms). Cover with a cloth and stick it on a shelf. The tang starts to set in after a few days, but it’ll continue to ferment for several weeks. Even if it doesn’t do anything for the flu, it’s the best kraut you’ll get this side of the Black Forest.

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of the Web site Boing Boing — “a directory of wonderful things” — and the editor in chief of MAKE, a how-to technology project magazine.


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