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These Solar-Powered Headphones Let You Ditch the Charger

These Solar-Powered Headphones Let You Ditch the Charger

‘Infinite’ is a tricky one, isn’t it? Something’s either ‘infinite’ or it isn’t. So when Urbanista describes its Los Angeles wireless noise-canceling over-ear headphones as having “virtually infinite” playtime, that’s basically the same as saying the Los Angeles don’t have infinite playtime.

Although, to be fair to Urbanista, the Los Angeles get a lot closer than most.

At a glance, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the Urbanista Los Angeles. Like the Miami wireless headphones on which they’re closely based, they’re discreetly good looking and nicely finished. And like every Urbanista product, they’re named after one of the planet’s more evocative places.

It’s on the outside of the headband, though, that the Los Angeles suddenly become unique. ‘Unique’, like ‘infinite’, is an absolute but currently, this is a description the Urbanista deserve. Because integrated into the outside of the headband there’s a big strip of a material called ‘Powerfoyle’ that’s supplied by a company called Exeger. It’s a solar cell material and it can derive energy from any type of light, from sunshine to the lightbulbs in your home. It’s always pulling energy, always charging, whether the headphones themselves are switched on or not. And it means the Urbanista Los Angeles will play for an enormous length of time without ever needing to be charged from the mains. Which, as unique selling points go, is pretty impressive.

Urbanista Los Angeles
Photograph: Urbanista

This piece of engineering brilliance aside, it’s mostly Urbanista business as usual. Which means the Los Angeles are a robust pair of headphones, comfortable at every contact point and not (like so many rival designs) about to swamp the smaller-headed listener. Build quality is unarguable, the choice of materials is judicious, the color options (‘midnight’ black or ‘sand’ gold) are pleasant, and there’s a degree of tactility about the Los Angeles that is by no means common in headphones below the £200 mark. 

Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.0, which is adequate but hardly at the cutting edge. Sound is delivered by a couple of the same 40mm full-range dynamic drivers fitted to the (suddenly slightly lo-tech) Urbanista Miami. There’s three-position active noise-cancellation: ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘ambient sound’, and hair-trigger accelerometers that pause music if you take the Los Angeles off your head (or even shift them slightly on your ears). Happily, the ‘on-ear detection’ can be defeated in the nice new Urbanista control app.

As far as headphones control apps go, it’s one of the better-looking and one of the more restricted in what it can actually do for you. There’s a nice big display that explains whether the battery is being topped up or drained, there’s switching for the three-stage noise cancellation and there’s the ability to define the function of the physical ‘control’ button on the outside of the left earcup. That’s your lot.

In Nigeria, Facebook’s Outage Revealed a Dangerous Dominance

In Nigeria, Facebook’s Outage Revealed a Dangerous Dominance

Tomiwa Ibukunle, a 21-year-old entrepreneur in Lagos, Nigeria, started her clothing and accessories business two months ago. She uses WhatsApp to advertise her products and process orders from customers, typically receiving 20 orders per day. But on October 5, when WhatsApp was down globally (alongside other Facebook platforms) for eight hours, her business took a big hit. “I just started my brand, and I use WhatsApp for Business because it is easy. But when I couldn’t access it, I began to worry because I had just put up the new items I got on my status and sent a few to my customers,” Ibukunle says. “I ended the day with five orders, and wondered where I was going to start from if WhatsApp stayed down, because that is where all my customers are.”

Though the Facebook outage was an inconvenience for many users in the US and Europe, its effects were felt far more harshly in other areas of the world, where the company and its platforms are utterly dominant. In Nigeria, WhatsApp is the major means of communication with family both at home and abroad, and is also used for business. Over 95 percent of Nigeria’s 33 million social media users use the platform. Having everyone on the same platform can be convenient, but the outage shows that Nigeria’s reliance on the app can be catastrophic—and that it’s time to look into alternatives.

When WhatsApp went down in Nigeria, panic ensued, accompanied by rumors that the service would never come back. “I sent a message to my daughter, and it didn’t deliver. I thought it was a network issue until my nephew told me it wasn’t,” Nkechinyere Peters, who lives in Umuahia, says. “That was when I became worried, because WhatsApp is our major means of communication. What if something was happening and she wanted to call me? Or I needed help with something important?” Worse, Peters heard that WhatsApp would be deleted entirely. “I believed it,” she says. “Everyone around me did.” The belief that the instant messaging app wasn’t going to come back caused many to worry, unsure what to do—and how they would communicate—if the rumor turned out to be reality.

Other people with families who are far from them shared the same fear. “My grandma is old and sick,” says Chiamaka Eze, who is from Nigeria but lives in Benin. “And as her favorite grandchild, she occasionally video calls me when my parents or the staff aren’t around to help her pick her drugs. But during the outage, I couldn’t help her, and I panicked that she was going to take the wrong drugs because she was home alone.”

Outages like this not only cease communication, but also put people at risk, as many important services are delivered via the platform. For example, WhatsApp hosts a 24-hour hotline by Mentally Aware Nigeria for people seeking counseling or emergency help. Last year, BORGEN magazine reported that over 10,000 people have spoken to MANI since 2016.

And when it comes to business, WhatsApp is the preferred platform, over Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. WhatsApp supports business profiles and virtual catalogs that let customers find information on the products or services they are interested in. It’s become popular with entrepreneurs because customers trust the platform, since “they see the items in real time as we add them to our status. There is also a sort of closeness seeing as we are communicating in a private space,” says Orji Eke, a fashion designer. But the advantages that WhatsApp for Business offers are moot—and the entrepreneurs who rely on it harmed—once the service goes down.

Atsu Davoh, CEO and founder of BitSika, a payment app that helps people send money across countries, says that one company controlling WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook is a ticking time bomb for those that rely on these services almost exclusively. “If we want to think about an actual solution for the future,” he says, “situations like this make up a good case for decentralization.”

WhatsApp is successful because so many people are on it, but there are other options. For people living in Nigeria, alternatives to the WhatsApp messaging app include Telegram or Signal. These apps have privacy features that are not available on WhatsApp and have an open source API. Homegrown apps like SoftTalk Messenger are also available. SoftTalk offers a service for making international calls directly from the app, and has a shopping feature as well.

The outage has shown that Nigerians need to move to other apps, but for this to happen, there should be attractive options that meet the standard of what Nigerians are used to. Investors should be funding local apps and ones yet to be developed—such investment will ensure that other options are available, and that communication is still possible the next time this happens.


More Great WIRED Stories

The Best Espresso Machines for the Home Barista

The Best Espresso Machines for the Home Barista

There’s always room to up your game, and there are quite a few additional tools that can help you make the best espresso you can. These ones are all tools you’d employ before the brew, setting the stage for the perfect extraction.

Fellow Atmos Canister for Coffee Beans

A vacuum canister is a great way to store your coffee beans. By vacating the chamber of all air every time you close it, the Fellow Vacuum Canister slows down the degradation of all those flavorful oils and chemical compounds inside your (hopefully locally roasted) favorite coffee beans.

OXO Conical Burr Grinder

This is one of our top picks in our Best Coffee Grinders guide, and it’s a good choice for espresso. Espresso requires a fine and consistent grind, the likes of which you can easily get out of a burr grinder. Just be sure to get in there and give your burrs a sweep now and then—maintenance which the OXO makes easy, with a bean bin that snaps apart without any fuss.

Bezzera Bottomless Portafilter

Nothing will improve your espresso brewing like a bottomless portafilter. Not because it will make your coffee better, it’ll make you better by making you more aware of your mistakes and inconsistencies. Bottomless portafilters are finicky, and when your grind is off or you’ve over-tamped your grounds, the bottomless portafilter lets you see that in how the espresso coats the bottom of the filter and pours down into the cup. Be sure to double-check the circumference on your espresso machine’s group head though (the place the filter attaches). There are a number of standard sizes, so you need to make sure you order the right one. The most common are 53 mm and 58 mm, and almost every bottomless portafilter comes in each of these sizes.

WPM Tamping Mat

Tamping mats are just a thick, soft piece of rubber or silicone, but they make it much easier to maintain a consistent tamping pressure (and a clean tamping space so you won’t stain your kitchen table with coffee or scratch it with the bottom of your tamp). You can also use a folded kitchen towel, but these are easy to rinse off.

Crema Distributor & Tamp

Once you put your grounds into your portafilter, the next step is giving them a good, even tamping. You want to use about 30-40 pounds of pressure, and while you can use a scale to determine exactly what that feels like, I find it’s better to just press with your upper body, then extract a shot and see how it went. If it’s too bitter, you tamped too hard, if it’s too watery you didn’t tamp hard enough. A distributor (also called a leveler) makes it easy to get an even surface for you to tamp, and this one has a tamp on one side and a distributor on the other so you can level off your beans, then flip this tool over and give ’em a good tamp. Just make sure you get one that fits the circumference of your machine’s portafilter!

Duralex Picardie Shot Glasses, Set of Six

These are my favorite shot glasses in general, but they’re also great espresso shot glasses—tall and narrow enough to allow a wonderfully aerated crema to form on top, and made of tempered glass so they can stand up to the heat. They’re also great for serving up smaller drinks like macchiatos—a shot of espresso with a dollop of froth on top.

The Best RSS Feed Readers (Because the Internet Is a Mess)

The Best RSS Feed Readers (Because the Internet Is a Mess)

The automation does require a pro account. Pro accounts also get some other nice features, like the ability to integrate with IFTTT and Zapier, an offline mode for the mobile apps. It also includes my personal favorite: keeping your YouTube account in sync with your RSS reading. You can watch YouTube videos in Inoreader, and next time you log into YouTube, you won’t have a ton of unwatched videos.

Inoreader offers a free (with ads) account, which is good for testing out the service to see if it meets your needs. If it does, the Pro account is $7 a month (it’s cheaper if you buy a year up front), which brings more advanced features and support for more feeds.

Best for Beginners

Feedly RSS reader
Photograph: Feedly

Feedly is probably the most popular RSS reader on the web, and for good reason. It’s well-designed, easy to use, and offers great search options so it’s easy to add all your favorite sites. It lacks one thing that makes Inoreader slightly better in my view—the YouTube syncing—but otherwise Feedly is an excellent choice. 

It even has a few features Inoreader does not, like Evernote integration (you can save articles to Evernote) and a notes feature for jotting down your own thoughts on stories. Feedly also touts Leo, the company’s AI search assistant, which can help filter your feeds and surface the content you really want. In my testing, I found that it worked well enough, but a big part of what I like about RSS is that there’s is no AI—I don’t want automated filtering. Depending on how you use RSS, though, this could be a useful feature.

Like the others here, Feedly offers iOS and Android apps along with a web interface. Feedly is free up to 100 feeds. A Pro subscription is $8 a month (it’s cheaper if you pay for a year) and enables more features like notes, save to Evernote, and ad-free reading. The Pro+ account gets you the AI-features and more for $12 a month.

Best For DIYers

Newsblur RSS reader
Photograph: Newsblur

Newsblur is a refreshingly simple old-school RSS reader. You won’t find AI or YouTube syncing here—it’s for reading RSS feeds and getting on with your life. It can subscribe to all kinds of content (including newsletters), read full stories (even from RSS feeds that don’t offer them), integrate with IFTTT, and even track story changes if a publisher updates an article.

Bodies Are Canceled. Thanks, Instagram

Bodies Are Canceled. Thanks, Instagram

A trove of leaked documents and a recent congressional hearing have proven the obvious: Instagram harms many of its users, and its parent company Facebook has known for years. As one company slide concluded: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” The recent developments confirm years of independent research showing that, for many, the app is linked to lowered body satisfaction and an increase in dieting—and that the changes happen fast. In one study of undergraduate women, it took just seven minutes on Instagram to ruin the mood.

There are a million recommendations on how to mitigate the damage of the unrelenting barrage of idealized images of strangers and friends. These commonsense strategies include curating your Instagram feed and practicing gratitude for your body by writing down the things it can do, regardless of how it looks. Some people try to use the good (body-positive images showing diverse shapes, sizes, and colors) to drive out the bad (images of idealized bodies). When all else fails, there are apps to help you reduce the time you spend on other apps.

But none of these tactics get to the root of the problem, which the stock phrase “body-image issues” barely even begins to describe. How we look—at ourselves and others—and its often-negative consequences remain more a matter of hair-trigger emotions than of rational thought. Once you’ve learned to see your body as an object, “you can’t turn that off,” says Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University and the founder of its Body & Media Lab. “You can only walk away.”

The best tactic, then, is a little more extreme than anything formally proposed before: Stop creating and consuming images of bodies. Cancel corporeality. Find ways to perceive, and be perceived, less.

Here’s an abridged history of self-perception: For millennia, the best shot you had at seeing yourself was in a naturally reflective surface, like a pool of water. (RIP Narcissus.) Roughly 500 years ago, glass mirrors became increasingly commonplace. Less than 200 years ago, people took the first images with photographic cameras. And, in 2010, Kevin Systrom posted the first photo on Instagram.

While mirrors radically altered people’s relationship to their own appearance, any glance was fairly fleeting. Photography, by contrast, entailed a kind of violent transfer of ownership. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1977 essay collection On Photography. “It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power.”

In an era where people take an estimated 1.4 trillion photos a year, at least 82 percent of young Americans have taken and posted a selfie online, and any image can be edited and shared on one of dozens of platforms in mere minutes, to be liked, commented upon, or, worse, ignored, the question of who holds that power has become even more complicated.

For more than two decades, Engeln and her colleagues have shown that popular media of all types—tabloids, television, and now social platforms—contribute to the widespread problem of objectification. It happens when people (especially those perceived to be female) are seen less as agents and equals and more as objects meant to be aesthetically evaluated. But the harm doesn’t stop there. Over time, researchers have theorized, these ideas become internalized, and people’s self-worth becomes tied to their outward appearance. This can lead to shame, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.

It also results in more and more time spent self-surveilling. In experimental studies, seemingly trivial things—like being in the presence of mirrors or scales or receiving an appearance-related comment—have been shown to lead to a decline in cognitive performance, as the brain’s limited attention is pulled away from the task at hand and toward the body and how it appears to others. The result, Engeln writes in her 2018 book Beauty Sick, is that many people walk around with an invisible mirror between them and the world.