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Man on airplane to seatmate: “It’s funny you’re wearing headphones, because I just read this article about a study that showed lots of people can’t pick up on basic privacy-seeking cues like, wait for it, *wearing headphones.*”


Noise-cancelling published on

Guys: just don’t, okay?

* * *

I have a pair of big ear-can headphones: the Sony MDR-7506, acquired used on Craigslist last year. I haven’t used headphones this big since… wow, since high school.

It seemed like overnight everyone stopped using them in the 80s, and started sporting tiny foam Sony Walkman headphones. Its headband looked so tiny and fragile that I couldn’t believe it would survive the rough and tumble of my backpack on a daily commute to and from university. And yet…

…well, actually, it broke pretty quickly, as did its replacement. But soon the market responded with cheap knock-offs with sound every bit as good as Sony’s.

A few years later, along came earbuds, which became the must-have audio accessory once the iPod debuted. Wonderful for most people, but hellish for me because I couldn’t figure out how to use them properly. They kept falling out, and I started to feel increasingly stupid at not being able to grasp this simple technology.

Then David Pogue saved me with a column revealing I wasn’t alone. He and I and lots of other people lack a little nub of ear cartilage known as the antitragus which, for most of the world, holds those earbuds in snugly.

It took me a few years after that to finally shell out for the big ol’ headphones of my youth, but I did and I’m happy. The kids are finally at an age where me isolating myself with a little music isn’t going to threaten anyone’s safety. And they’ve grown up on much smaller headphones, so neither one is pestering me to use these.

Truth be told, they’re heavy and inconvenient, and I actually prefer to wear a lightweight pair of cheap off-brand Bluetooth headphones for day-to-day use. But when I want to disappear into a cocoon of sound, there’s nothing like two 1970s-style ear-mattresses to do the trick.

(Flight attendant makes announcement) We know you had many equally unappealing options for your travel today. We're glad you settled for us.

Flight attendants, cross-check doors and body-check passengers for departure.

Flight attendants, cross-check doors and body-check passengers for departure. published on

The last week or two has brought a flood of news about godawful air passenger experiences — various overbooking fiascos, a United passenger beaten senseless, and whatever the hell this is. It ought to be making the airline industry think hard about customer experience.

I’d love to see an airline make a declaration that they’ll never overbook again, that there’s some minimum level of passenger comfort they won’t try to pare away, and that the days of treating their customers as whiny freight are over. That they’re going to compete on the brand-new terrain of respecting their passengers.

Don’t hold your breath, though. (Not that the recirculated air is that fresh to begin with.) Maybe the last several days are gamechangers for the industry, but I think it’s more likely that airline head offices are planning on riding out the turbulence on their current altitude and heading. After all, a few decades of incremental passenger abuse have made airlines one of the more profitable industries out there — especially in North America.

Then again, maybe it would just take one airline to break from the pack…

An airplane in-seat entertainment center filled with movies you don't want to see

Fly the meh skies

Fly the meh skies published on No Comments on Fly the meh skies

I know, powered flight is a modern miracle, and I should spend the few hours it takes to whisk me from one coast of North America to another suffused in wonder and awe. But when I get up at 4:00 am for a 6:00 am flight, that level of presence and centeredness is a little out of reach. Even at 20,000 feet. So permit me the quintessentially First-World Problem of meh-level in-flight movies.

In fairness to Air Canada, there’s one category of in-flight movies not listed here: I Would Be Betraying Alex If I Watched This Without Her. (Which is why I passed up Spy this morning when it became clear sleeping wasn’t an option. You’re welcome, honey.)

(I drew this somewhere over Saskatchewan. I’m in Toronto right now, on my way to Boston for Inbound 2015. Wave and say hi if you’re there, too!)


Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences published on No Comments on Unintended consequences

It’s the dying moments of the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco. I’ve been cartoon-blogging like a madman – updates to follow – but in the meantime, thought I’d share a sketch from the flight down.


(a passenger deliberately bores her seatmate with stories of a frustrating executive director, to prevent him from boring her with stories about his grandkids)

Pity whoever’s sitting next to me on this flight

Pity whoever’s sitting next to me on this flight published on No Comments on Pity whoever’s sitting next to me on this flight

Actually, the guy who sat next to me on the first leg of my flight was an avalanche rescue student, and we had a fascinating conversation (well, I had a fascinating conversation – his mileage probably varied, especially once I started going on about Flash restaurant menus).

I learned that avalanches have a five-stage scale of size: 1 can knock you over, 2 can bury and kill you, 3 can wreck cars, 4 can take out a railway car and 5 can wipe out towns. I learned about the fracture line, where the avalanche separates from the rest of the snow pack. And I learned that it would be a very good idea if I never travel east of, oh, Burnaby ever again unless it’s a safe distance from anything snow-capped-mountain-y. (30,000 feet ought to do it.)

My sketchbook for the flight to BlogWorld in Las Vegas

Flying into BlogWorld

Flying into BlogWorld published on No Comments on Flying into BlogWorld

This was me arriving at BlogWorld on Wednesday.

I’m there through Saturday, toonblogging the whole thing. You can read the latest cartoons on the BlogWorld site – and be sure to follow the #bwe10 hashtag if you’d like to read the Twitter backchannel.

By the way, here’s my sketchbook from the flight:

My sketchbook for the flight to BlogWorld in Las Vegas

Fly the friend-me skies

Fly the friend-me skies published on 1 Comment on Fly the friend-me skies

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Okay, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea from a security standpoint. But don’t you think a little social profile vetting is in order before they seat people on an aircraft?

Show me a passenger whose Twitter profile is larded up with multi-level marketing come-ons, and I’ll show you someone who’s going to pester their seat mate about exciting affiliate opportunities in the exotic berry juice industry. Check someone’s Facebook profile for a deluge of Farmville notifications and invitations, and you’ll have a pretty good idea if they’re likely to natter non-stop from LAX to LGA.

And I challenge you to find a better technique than looking through someone’s commenting record on Disqus or IntenseDebate for telling whether they’re likely to hog both armrests and kick the seat of the person in front of them.

At the very least, let’s get a few smart people together to develop an algorithm that can quickly sift through the information in your profile and match you with seatmates you’re going to find – if not riveting – then at least tolerable company. (Unless the airlines are already doing that, only to match you with people you’ll find so annoying that you’ll order more drinks. It would explain a lot.)

By the way, I’ll be in the air next week heading to BlogWorld in Las Vegas, sketchpad in hand. See you there?

P.S. – Here’s a version just for you OAuth fans.

(gate agent to passenger) I'll need to see your passport. Unless you'd like to authenticate using OAuth.

And you thought hunger was the best sauce

And you thought hunger was the best sauce published on 2 Comments on And you thought hunger was the best sauce

I have this draft restaurant review in my head that goes something like this:

“The hot new restaurant in town is Air Canada Flight 166, but for the life of me, I can’t understand what the fuss is about. The seating is cramped, intrusive video advertisements play at the beginning of the meal – which is indifferent at best – and, most baffling of all, when I left the restaurant, I was 2,600 kilometres from where I’d parked.”

And yep, another iPad cartoon – this one in fact drawn on a plane, on my way to lead a workshop on social media at Persuading to Win 3 in Ottawa. As much as I loved meeting my fellow presenters George Lakoff and Marc Zwelling, this is the kind of conference where at least half the enjoyment lies in seeing old faces. I got to see agenda-mates Elaine Bernard and Sean Moffitt only in passing, and a few other familiar folks from my Toronto and Ottawa days… but the greatest pleasure was spending even a few minutes with Ish Theilheimer and Kathy Eisner. Ish gave me my first full-time job out of university, and he’s been both a mentor and – along with Kathy – a good friend ever since.

How I got to London

How I got to London published on No Comments on How I got to London

In lieu of a real Noise to Signal, here are some doodles from the airport.

In fairness, there’s plenty to do and eat and purchase at YVR. But I was there latish, and a lot of things were closed.

That said, I did not in fact get drunk – had a workshop to do on Friday, and besides, who wants to endure jet lag and a hangover?