Skip to content
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.

From #13ntc: Stranded…

From #13ntc: Stranded… published on 3 Comments on From #13ntc: Stranded…

It was a lovely conference, even from afar (thanks, Maddie Grant and team, for a great online stream!).

A major storm slammed the Midwest, including my wife’s flight home – which was supposed to arrive around dinner, giving us a few hours together before my red-eye to Toronto and then Minneapolis. Then Alex’s flight home was delayed…and delayed… annnnnnd… cancelled. She got herself on another flight.

Meanwhile, I learned at 8:30 pm that my flight the next morning from Toronto to Minneapolis was also scrubbed. Unable to get through to Air Canada by phone (“Owing to greater than normal call volumes,” normally the bullshit line to end all bullshit lines, was probably true that night), I headed to the airport on spec. Thankfully, the Air Canada ticket agent cheerfully found me another flight – later in the afternoon, but it meant that I finally made it to the Nonprofit Technology Conference, bleary-eyed (I had plenty of company on that score) but intact.

Ticket agents, by the way, put up with a lot of crap for circumstances completely beyond their control. Be nice to them.

MacBook (Not) Air

MacBook (Not) Air published on 2 Comments on MacBook (Not) Air

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Fly any airline and you’ll see two parallel rituals being conducted just before takeoff: flight attendants politely reminding passengers to switch off everything remotely entertaining for their own safety, and a subset of the passengers covertly eking out every last second of keyboarding they can before they get caught.

For some of those passengers, the lack of compliance stems from an innate need to defy any authority; for others, a neurotic fear of even a nanosecond of unavoidable disconnection. And for still others, it comes from deep-seated skepticism that 21st-century airline avionics are really all that vulnerable to a few stray processor cycles and rogue oscillations.

I could easily see myself with a foot in each of those camps. (I’d need to graft on a whole new foot to achieve that, but work with me on this.) And yet…

See, here’s the thing. I know (roughly) the physics that keeps a multi-ton steel behemoth aloft. I know the huge amounts invested in the care and maintenance of its systems. I’ve flown countless times.

Yet to some prehistoric part of my brain, it still seems like a complete freaking miracle to me that those wheels actually do leave the tarmac for any significant length of time. And to keep that miracle happening long enough to get us to a safe cruising altitude, my inner awestruck Neanderthal is happy to switch off whatever gizmo it takes: iPad, Kindle, pacemaker… just name it.

But that’s me. When it comes to switching off before taking off, where do you land?

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.

Place your bladders in the locked and upright position

Place your bladders in the locked and upright position published on 4 Comments on Place your bladders in the locked and upright position

No, really, it makes perfect sense: administer a substance that makes people desperately have to pee. At 30,000 feet above ground. With 120 passengers. And two working toilets.

You just know someone, somewhere, at some airline’s corporate headquarters has to be thinking, “Heyyyy… what if those were pay toilets..?”

How to use your laptop as a lightbox

How to use your laptop as a lightbox published on 2 Comments on How to use your laptop as a lightbox

Work took me to London this week – exciting stuff, as I’ve never really been (that overnight at Heathrow doesn’t exactly count), and I’ve been loving every jet-lagged moment of it.

But that didn’t mean I could skip my deadline at ReadWriteWeb this weekend, did it? And yet here I was eight time zones away from my beloved Cintiq – excuse me, that should read “from my beloved, comma, from my Cintiq…” – and from my tracing paper. It was late at night and, seat of empire and cultural crucible though London may be, I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a 24-hour art supply shop anywhere near my Islington hotel.

Also, that would have required me to move. Did I mention the jet lag?

This video is all about how I solved the problem, thanks to my trusty MacBook Pro and my beloved (dammit, there I go again) Canon SLR.

(Oh, and many thanks to Stephen Whitehead for a very kind offer!)

From our vault: condition terminal

From our vault: condition terminal published on 1 Comment on From our vault: condition terminal

Somehow this escaped the Great Site Transfer of 2009!

It was drawn in a godforsaken departure lounge at YVR. So if you happen to be in such a departure lounge right now, reading this, please know: you are not alone.