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Jack White's Nashville-based label Third Man Records is known for inventive releases, from multicolored vinyl to big-name collaborations and collectors' items from a slew of artists. But it looks as though Mr. White saved the really groundbreaking stuff for himself, releasing two very unique versions of his 12-inch vinyl single "Sixteen Saltines," a track from this year's JW solo debut Blunderbuss.
Both versions of the "Sixteen Saltines" 12-inch are backed with a playable etching featuring a cover of U2's "Love Is Blindness." The etching, which depicts Third Man's logo, was designed by George Ingram — president of Nashville Record Productions — and created via a silk-screening process. While artists including Styx and Split Enz have released playable laser-etched vinyl in the past, the grooves on those etchings aren't raised, whereas the image on the "Saltines" single sits above the rest of the grooves.
A second version of the "Saltines" single — featuring the same audio — was available only at the TMR storefront on this year's Record Store Day (in April). In addition to the playable etching B-side, the second "Saltines" single boasts a feature that according to Third Man, has never before been successfully achieved: It's filled with liquid. ("While the soundtrack for the 1978 film The Black Hole was initially prototyped as a liquid-filled disc," notes a TMR spokesman, "problems with leakage prevented it from ever being released.") The vinyl itself is clear, allowing listeners to peer into a pocket on the inside of the record that is filled with translucent, psychedelic blue liquid.
White also happened to release 1,000 copies of his "Freedom at 21" flexi disc single via helium balloons this year. Check back next year, when Third Man will release an LP pressed entirely on peanut brittle. Kidding.
At least we think so.
In June, the nation's largest radio conglomerate struck a groundbreaking deal with one of country music's biggest labels. Clear Channel Entertainment will pay Big Machine Records (and ostensibly its performers) royalties for the terrestrial broadcast of sound recordings — something broadcasters have never before done, and fought long and hard never to do. Traditionally, songwriters and their publishers were the only ones to profit from radio spins.
Since Clear Channel isn't exactly known for its magnanimous business tactics — think Dick Cheney on the FM dial — what does the company stand to gain by loosening its vice grip on Big Machine, a Music Row giant that's home to country heavyweights like Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw? The answer: the other kind of currency.
Clear Channel clearly feels the looming threat of the same digital revolution that all but swallowed the label industry whole and spit out iTunes, Pandora and Spotify — terrestrial broadcasting's increasingly viable competitors — in the process.
Simply put, Clear Channel is a broadcaster trying at best to keep up with, and at worst to undercut, webcasters that by law have paid out performance royalties since the dawn of online streaming. Per-play digital licensing fees are a costly economic hurdle for webcasters. As part of this agreement, Big Machine will license its catalog directly to Clear Channel, potentially saving the company a fortune as it sets up its digital dominoes.
Optimists hope this deal will pave the way for future performer- and label-friendly broadcast agreements and eventually prove a game-changer for a music industry hard up for revenue streams. But it's too soon to tell how and if Clear Channel's seemingly sacrificial investment in a shift towards digital will trickle down to affect artists and labels in an indie ecosystem where dependence on terrestrial radio is ever diminishing.
Developed by Nashvillian Pico Mitchell, TuneSpan is a Mac OS app designed to make "spanning" — that is, storing your iTunes files across multiple external drives — easily manageable. A dream come true for film, television and music wonks with oodles of gigabytes to juggle, TuneSpan allows the user to keep tabs on all of his or her media with an aesthetic and an interface that are similar to those of iTunes itself. It isn't exactly a glamorous innovation, but it's the sort of e-housekeeping must-have that will make Mac-using media hoarders wonder how they ever survived without it.
The American Dream has its downsides.
That white picket fence outside the three-bedroom, two-bath in the suburbs isn’t just decoration: It’s a physical boundary. It keeps your family in, and keeps others away. That minivan and that sedan in the driveway make it possible to go to work and come home again without ever interacting with another soul.
Sometimes the best innovations are those that turn dreams on their head.
Next year at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Taylor Street in Germantown, Nashville's first cohousing development will come out of the ground.
Cohousing is a movement that started with two expatriate architects who lived in a highly communal way while studying in Europe. Essentially, each homeowner trades smaller personal space — the homes in the Nashville project will range from 750 to 1,300 square feet — for "upsizing our social connections," according to project creator Diana Sullivan.
"We are moving into smaller homes with flexible common space. ... We're getting rid of rooms you use part of the time. It's living more efficiently and it's putting more focus on the community," she says.
At the center of the development is a common house: a place with TVs, dining rooms — even extra bedrooms for when residents have guests. It will always be visible from anywhere in the neighborhood, a very literal community front porch. Deconstructing the traditional model of American home life is no easy task: Forced community means unavoidable interaction. And as Sartre reminded us, sometimes hell is other people.
In a cohousing environment, getting away from other people isn't as easy as retreating to your family room, because it's everybody's family room. So learning to talk to other people from different backgrounds and of different generations — Sullivan says the Nashville participants cut a wide demographic swath — is crucial.
"We're all trained in different methods and motivations of communication. Not only are we working to build a custom-designed neighborhood, we're working on a way to communicate and know one another," she said.
It's a new way of talking for a new type of neighborhood.
It's a new way of living the American Dream.
According to legend, "blivet" — commonly defined as "10 pounds of crap in a five-pound sack" — is World War II-era military slang for a messed-up situation. Over the years, it got attached to the thick rubber bladders used to transport fluids and fuel. The term stuck, in part because the blivets inspired plenty of cursing.
Their problems were many. Whether filled or empty, the bladders were cumbersome. A written account for the Fort Campbell Courier compared lifting one to "trying to move a waterbed." Worse, they were difficult to deliver. Imagine trying to sling-load (or air-land) a giant water balloon on Afghanistan's craggy terrain without bursting it.
There was an alternative: 500-gallon barrels. But these bulky behemoths take up disproportionate ground space and are too heavy for one soldier to carry. An army's ability to advance depends on such logistics. And that's why it was hailed as a breakthrough when the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, working from an idea supplied by Fort Campbell's 101st Sustainment Brigade, devised the Lifeliner CUBE.
The CUBE (Container-Unitized Bulk Equipment) looks like an oversized plastic milk crate, outfitted with a 400-gallon liner. But simplicity is part of its beauty. Because of its shape, the CUBE is easier to sling-load and stack vertically. Because of the hard plastic sides, the blivet within stands less chance of bursting. Because of its relatively light weight, it can be collapsed when empty and carried by a single soldier.
Best of all, it shaves an estimated 60 percent in costs off the traditional blivet. According to 101st Sustainment Brigade public affairs officer Sgt. 1st Class Peter Mayes, the CUBEs can also be moved from all four sides by forklift and joined together.
As Spc. Michael Vanpool of the 101st wrote in his recap for the Courier, the CUBE moved from idea to implementation with unusual speed: one year, instead of the usual six to eight. In May, the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board, established in part to reward cutting government costs and improving efficiency, honored the CUBE with the Initiative Award for Creativity and Innovation. But proof of the CUBE's real worth can be found in Afghanistan — where, Vanpool writes, more than 100 have already been deployed.
Unless you're in the .05 percent of the population who enjoyed physics in high school, the term "quantum" probably calls to mind James Bond or Scott Bakula. But researchers at Vanderbilt University are working on a project that could bring the word into the everyday vernacular, and perhaps even have a hand in saving the planet.
Quantum dots, which were originally discovered in 1980, are tiny beads of semiconductor material that possess distinctive electronic properties, including the ability to emit various colors of light. In 2005, a team of Vanderbilt chemists — professor Sandra Rosenthal and then-graduate students Michael Bowers and James McBride — accidentally discovered that quantum dots, when paired with blue light from LEDs, produced a warm white light.
The significance of this discovery — which earned the chemists a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award in 2006 — is that quantum dots may be the key to developing quality, efficient, eco-friendly white light. This would be a vast improvement over the fluorescent lights that make everyone look disturbingly anemic, or the electricity-eating incandescent bulbs that are falling out of usage.
The biggest barrier in the development of quantum dots is that historically, their efficiency clocked in at just 3 percent — too low for commercial use. But in May, Rosenthal, now the Jack and Pamela Egan Chair of Chemistry, announced that her team had made a dramatic leap in efficiency.
"We have demonstrated that our ultra-small nanocrystals that emit broad spectrum white light can do so with a fluorescence quantum efficiency of 46 percent," Rosenthal says. "Next steps in this research would be to fabricate prototypical devices incorporating these nanocrystals, and exploring fundamental research that could lead to these nanocrystals emitting light with even higher efficiency."
If Mark Wallace is right, the classroom of the future will look something like an Apple commercial.
Imagine a throng of fifth-graders taking instruction not only from a flesh-and-blood teacher, but also from tablet computers running software tailored to each student's individual brain wiring. Science fiction? Not according to Wallace, who directs Vanderbilt University's Brain Institute. This fall, the institute will partner with the university's renowned Peabody College of education and human development to implement the country's first doctoral program in the burgeoning field of educational neuroscience.
"If you think about traditional classroom learning, it hasn't changed much in 30 or 40 years," Wallace says. "Our idea with the new generation of students trained in educational neuroscience is that they will be able to create classroom environments in which kids are able to learn using a whole variety of multimedia technologies."
By combining the Brain Institute's research on the maturation of the human brain with cutting-edge technology and innovative educational techniques pioneered by Peabody, educators will be able to deliver course materials in a variety of ways — based not on prescribed practices, but on methods that evolve organically based on how a child's brain actually works.
And as Wallace notes, since most children now are highly adept at using touch-screen technology, working with iPads is something of a no-brainer. (Pun intended.)
"We're looking at ways that we can individualize classroom learning where kids are working with a device like an iPad," he says. "Based on what we know about their brains and how they take in information, we can individualize the information that [teachers] give them through the iPad. ... Some kids are better learners with visual information, and some kids are better learners with auditory information. So one of things we can do is take the neuroscience about these children and tailor a learning environment that's best suited to the way that they optimally take in information."
With a science-based approach, the program should open new doors in the education of special-needs students. Instead of simply placing developmentally disabled pupils in remedial classes, graduates from the new Vanderbilt program will take a special-needs pupil's neurology into account, applying a range of tools and methods to gain the most effective results.
But the biggest question for Wallace is how long it will take for mainstream education to adopt these novel methods in classrooms.
"My guess is, we're probably looking at 15 or 20 years before this really becomes the model for the traditional classroom," he says. "But I expect this to be the rule, not the exception."
Since its inception 42 years ago, Oasis Center has grown into one of the nation's leading youth-serving organizations, providing support and direction for young Nashvillians facing difficult life circumstances. In 2010, Oasis made great strides with its most at-risk clients using neurofeedback — a process that uses noninvasive sensors attached to the head to read the brain's activity. Results have been so positive that Oasis has founded NeuroClarity, a business enterprise that offers neurofeedback services to the public, regardless of age. Here's how it works: While a licensed mental health clinician monitors your brain activity, you watch a monitor — very similar to a video game — that helps relax you. The goal: To train your brain to operate at a more relaxed and attentive state. It's particularly recommended for people who would like help overcoming anxiety, depression, stress, trauma or ADD/ADHD.
With all the heat surrounding charter schools lately — "They're the best thing since individually packaged cheese slices!" "They're destroying cheese as we know it!" — Nashville Preparatory Academy has concerned itself with shedding some light.
In fact, the charter school is shining brilliantly. In the most recent school year, Nashville Prep posted some of the highest Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores in the state — though it's now only in its second year and still without a permanent home. (For now, the school remains holed up in TSU's Avon Williams Building.)
So how did they beat MNPS and every other Nashville charter school in math (79), science (78.75), social studies (97.5) and language arts (63.75)? According to Ravi Gupta, Nashville Prep's founder and director, it's about combining old-school and new-school approaches.
"We arrange our day such that every scholar in our building every two days is given an opportunity for one-on-one tutoring, and that's an old-school innovation," he says. "And then we have technologies that we use to track data, technologies to send information to parents ... and computer-based learning."
The school has found success implementing Kickboard, an advanced data tracker that atomizes every detail of a student's academic performance with astonishing accuracy. But Gupta maintains that the cause of Nashville Prep's achievements is decidedly low-tech.
"I think the greatest computer-based program in the world is not going to be as strong as an excellent teacher, which we've been fortunate to have," he says.
No pigtails Pink, just pig.
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