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The Test of Time

From the $100 surf-ready Mariner Tide to the $1,750 super-powered Astron, these are the season's most exciting new watches. They're ready for anything nature throws at them. Are you? 

Nixon Tangent ($500)

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The Tangent is made from the same burly material used in the fins of big-wave surfboards. It comes with a simple tide dial, and Nixon smartly moved the crown to the nine o’clock position to reduce wrist bite while paddling out.

Seiko Astron ($1,750)

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This titanium-body watch uses GPS to calibrate the exact time, zone, and daylight-savings status. And because it doesn’t use atomic clocks, it can also set itself—precise to one second every 100,000 years— at any point on earth. The only caveat: it uses solar power to take a daily reading, so you do need to be outside at least once in a while.

Freestyle Mariner Tide ($100)

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This easy-to-read watch takes Freestyle’s Mariner sailing model, turns it into a great tool for surfers, and still keeps the price within reach. Programmed with tidal direction, time, and height for 150 beaches worldwide, the Mariner Tide does the thinking for you, so you can watch for the next swell.

Luminox SXC 5127 ($795)

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When the first clients of Space Expedition Corporation launch into orbit, they’ll all be wearing one of these. Basically a spruced-up aviation watch, it can handle G-forces and has a GMT hand, in case you splash down in another time zone.

Reactor Gryphon ($350)

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For the optimal balance of tough-as-nails and light-as-feathers, the survivalist-minded Reactor houses a stainless-steel body inside a frame made of weapons-grade Nitromid polymer. Even the K1 hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal is more impact-resistant than most watches. Its slim profile minimizes the chance of breakage, and it stays illuminated all night.

Suunto Ambit2 R ($249)

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Running watches just keep getting better. The Ambit2 R takes readings for speed, distance, and heart rate and features interval timers and a Backtrack function that’ll guide you on unfamiliar trails.

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A High-Tech Radio with an Old-School Look

Growing up in Sedona, Arizona, my friends and I were true pros at shirking responsibility. We spent entire days in the national forest building BMX trails, and in the summers we’d hang around swimming holes.

One of the best was Grasshopper Point, a couple of miles up Oak Creek Canyon. The place has since been recarved by floods and placarded with warnings so the tourists won’t sue, but at the time it was our secret slab of rock, a place where the world couldn’t catch up to us.

So the day we graduated from high school, we did what countless teenagers had done before us: we stole some Coors from our parents’ refrigerators and went to Grasshopper Point. We popped an Oingo Boingo tape into our Pioneer boom box—the one that would get moody and cause Danny Elfman’s voice to quaver—and, naturally, we played our music loud, singing along in the most unskilled way, and waited for the nearby girls in string bikinis to come talk to us.

The digital age might have rewired our brains, but the world still has its swimming holes. And like a campfire without marshmallows, a creek just isn’t a creek without good friends and music. Now, however, we have iPhones that hold five billion of our favorite songs and Bluetooth speakers that can play them all day.

Like the rechargeable Tivoli Audio PAL BT ($300). It weighs less than two pounds and sounds as clear as our creek was back in the day. Plus, you don’t have to toss out a bunch of D cells, you won’t risk mangling your Dire Straits cassettes, and, as you can see here, the throwback design is timeless and sexy. I can almost picture it back on Oak Creek—although, I now realize, those girls were never going to talk to us.

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Fad Food Nation

Walmart, already one of the country’s largest distributors of organic foods, will gobble up additional market share this summer, thanks to a deal it struck with Wild Oats to carry more than 100 of the natural-food chain’s house-branded products.

The agreement, coming on the heels of Target’s Simply Balanced line, which is 40 percent organic, marks a new era. One obvious benefit is that prices for organic foods should drop nationwide as production increases and competitors are forced to match big-box discounts.

But the supersizing of organic comes at a cost. When the term first gained traction, in the 1980s, it was mainly used by small farms supplying local markets. In 2000, when the Department of Agriculture created the USDA Organic label, its standards included a list of roughly 100 substances, including some synthetic chemicals, that would be allowed in the farming process. The list is picked over incessantly, but in September of last year, the USDA made it more difficult to remove pesticides and herbicides it had already approved.

All of which means that, for consumers, shopping is more complex than ever.

Straight Talk on the Organic Frenzy

“It’s better for you”
Not necessarily. Thousands of studies show no clear consensus on the nutritional benefits of organic over conventional foods. However, studies found fewer pesticide residues and fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria in organic foods.

“It’s better for the environment”
True. Studies show that organically farmed soil has greater microbial diversity, in large part because of crop rotation, cover crops, and the use of compost, required for certification. Organic crops usually have greater drought tolerance.

“It’s better for the animals”
Probably. There is no conclusive evidence that organic meat or dairy is healthier, but most animals are required to have access to pasture and are exposed to far fewer antibiotics.

“It’s better for the farmers”
Definitely. Laborers on conventional farms are exposed to hundreds more agrichemicals than those on organic farms. Consequences range from headaches to birth defects to cancer.

The Local-Versus-Organic Question
In terms of nutrient value, fresh almost always trumps organic, which is why local is usually better. But a local farmer could be spraying his crops with every chemical in the book. Don’t stress out about which chemicals to avoid. Find a farmer you can trust and ask if the produce is certified organic. If he says yes but his stand isn’t labeled, be skeptical. If he says no but is eager to talk about how he grows his crops, that’s probably the best indicator. The certification process is time consuming and expensive, and many local vendors skip it.

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Is the Next Energy Alternative Taking Flight?

Ten years ago, kiteboarding pioneer Don Montague hatched a plan to become the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe. His idea was to use a 65-foot catamaran, cabled to a large parafoil, that would fly some 250 feet in the air. Essentially, he would supersize the typical kiteboard rig. A few months into the project, he gave a preview to a couple of kitesurfing friends, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

“I was showing them how much power was actually available at higher altitudes, and I said, ‘Look, I can even generate electricity,’ ” says Montague, who had worked with a Dutch astronaut to build a kite-power prototype. “They said, ‘Don, don’t waste your time sailing around the world. Let’s save the world.’ ”

So Montague and his partners set about designing a wind turbine that would be held aloft like a kite but use small propellers to generate electricity. Montague named the new endeavor Makani. At the outset, Google invested $15 million in the effort. Last May, Makani was sold outright to Google X—the R&D lab that created Google Glass—for an undisclosed amount. And this summer, backed by the company’s enormous resources, Makani began building a second-generation, 600-kilowatt wind turbine, which could one day generate enough electricity to power 300 homes—as many as the largest modern land-based turbines.

Makani’s big idea rests on a simple concept: wind gets stronger—and more dependable—the higher you go. Dozens of companies around the world are working on design formulas based on this principle, everything from a propeller system that stays aloft with helium, like a blimp, to a large drone-like quadcopter with spinning blades that produce energy.

One of the primary hurdles in technology races like this is capital, since most investors consider the odds of failure too great. But with Google’s deep pockets, Makani is by far the most likely outfit to usher in a new era of wind power. “We are able to go faster, and we have a larger appetite for risk,” says Damon Vander Lind, lead engineer at Makani. “Perhaps we will fail. But if we succeed, the value dwarfs all the potential failures.”

Some alternative-power advocates are ambivalent about Google leading the way to a renewable-energy future, but the wind sector needs all the help it can get. Proponents like to boast that the resource could supply the U.S. with 20 percent of its electricity needs, yet the industry has foundered in recent years, beset by political and logistical woes. A big part of the problem is that current land-based designs are expensive to build and clunky to transport. That’s where Montague’s high-flying concept comes in.

“While classic turbines are facing physical and economic limits, airborne wind energy shows interesting potential,” says Roland Schmehl, a professor at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, who’s working on an electricity-generating inflatable wing called Kite Power.

Makani is currently testing a 20-kilowatt airplane-inspired turbine, which circles in the air like a parafoil. Made with 27-foot-wide carbon-fiber wings, it can reach heights of up to 1,300 feet, compared with a maximum 500 feet for land-based turbines. When the wind isn’t strong enough to keep the wing aloft, a docking station reels it in. Like those on the ground, airborne models would likely be combined into groups of dozens or even hundreds. To maximize -potential power, Makani’s turbines would need to fly at a minimum of 500 feet—which could require amending current FAA regulations.

As for Montague, after the Google X acquisition, he bowed out of the company and got back to building that kite-powered catamaran to sail around the world. He’s confident Makani will be the first to market with a commercially viable airborne wind turbine, which he says is still at least five years out.

“Is it a race? It doesn’t really matter who’s first,” Montague says. “If anyone is in production in five years, then we all win.”

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