God willing, it’ll soon be warm enough to start going outside for lengthy periods of time here in Chicago. I’m talking about porch parties, backyard barbecues, and block ragers. We even have a roof deck here at work perfect for sunny lunches and Friday night flip cup. But sometimes it’s hard to get decent sound outside, and iPhone speakers—even the nice ones—don’t always cut it. That’s where Ion’s Block Party Live comes in. The portable wireless speaker system delivers quite a little aural kick, and you can either run it off an electrical socket or charge it pre-party. Beyond that, it’s got a mic, an aux port for iPods, and—the pièce de résistance—party-style strobe lights that spin around as if they’ve hit a disco ball. (That feature’s not that effective outside, but inside, it’s blinding.) You can even use an app to control the settings, something that’s especially fun/stupid when you’re drunk.
Full disclosure: The company recently sent one to the office, but even so it’s been a big hit. We’ve used it for janky YouTube-based happy hour karaoke, for speeches at going away parties, and for good old-fashioned tunes. Knowing that we’ll be able to take it on the roof in the near future has made the whole thing that much sweeter. [Marah Eakin]
My breakfast routine for the past few years at SXSW has been a rendezvous with a cup of Umpqua Oats, usually purchased the night before at Royal Blue Grocery, which is like a 7-Eleven for the fabulously well-to-do. You prepare the little cup of oats by just adding hot water and letting it sit, which is incredibly easy to do in pajamas in a hotel room. It somehow occurred to me this year that I could probably purchase this product in other parts of the country, considering that we’re living in the future. So I dialed up Amazon on my computing machine and secured an entire case of the “Old School” flavor—apples, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, walnuts, and almonds—and it was waiting for me in Chicago upon my return. I feel a little bad about the abundance of packaging for each meal, but not bad enough that I’m not going to treat myself to their chewy, oaty goodness. [Josh Modell]
Since I started roasting my own coffee beans a couple years ago, my coffee snobbery has gone off the charts. Still, there’s always more to learn, and Coffee Gives Me Superpowers is a nice mix of whimsy and fact. Written and illustrated by Ryoko Iwata in a style reminiscent of The Oatmeal, the book pokes fun at people like me (that’s The Dark Lord Of Black Coffee to you), but is also a well-researched, long-form comic that includes facts you can regale your coffee-challenged friends with. For instance, did you know that the people of Finland consume more coffee per capita than anywhere in the world? Or that—surprising no one at The A.V. Club—among all professions, editors and writers rank as the fourth-heaviest coffee drinkers? Iwata also includes a list of common mistakes when brewing coffee, starting with storing coffee beans in the freezer (seriously, stop doing that), placating even an insufferable coffee snob like me. Sure, these novelty-type books seem like they’re being published at record speed lately, but this one is actually worth a read. You’ll even learn where the term “cup of joe” came from—a far more interesting history than you might imagine. [Laura M. Browning]