One of the nifty and amazing things we got to experience up close last week at MacWorld and at the Apple SoHo store were the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones.

I am a big fan of noise cancelling headphones because I am convinced, in my own self-deluding way, that I invented them. I remember clearly during Mr. Moore’s physics class at Waterdown District High School thinking, during his description of how sound waves work, that you could effectively “neutralize” a sound wave by playing its opposite, and that if you could squeeze this into a headphone, you could eliminate all sound around you.

Of course I wasn’t the only person this occured to, and technology caught up with the idea and the result is these noise cancelling headphones (similar models are made by Sony and others).

The downside is that the Bose models are very expensive — $299US. During a search for alternatives I came across a great website from HeadRoom Corporation. Everything that most companies do wrong on their corporate sites, these guys do right: their site is well organized, well designed, and has got globs and globs of useful content about headphones of all varieties.

My favourite category of product is “Cheap Headphones” and my favourite piece of advice is:

Noise cancelling headphones are mostly a waste of money. These headphones use a small microphone mounted right next to the driver element in each earpiece to monitor the outside noise getting to the ear. A special electronic circuit then creates a signal perfectly opposite to the outside noise so as to cancel it out before it reaches the ear. Audio coming from your player is simply summed into the cancellation signal in the circuit and is then played through the headphones. The problem is that all these noise-cancelling headphones have their money in the electronics but use cheap headphones. So, in terms of the resulting sound quality, you have nothing better than a $20 pair of bad headphones.
I will buy my next pair of headphones from them.

Good Shoes, Bad Website

I having been wearing Simple Shoes for almost 5 years. I like them: they’re comfortable, simple (yes), and well styled. But they’re awfully difficult to purchase. I bought my first pair at a store on Barrington that immediately thereafter went out of business, and my second pair, at great expense of duty, from Mortt’s in New Hampshire. My current pair is wearing out and I need to replace them. I stopped by Mortt’s last week, but they no longer carry the brand. So I visited the Simple Shoes website to find another dealer.

Why why why, I ask.

The website is useless: it’s drenched with pretty brand-building graphics and some sort of movie review system that appears to have little to do with shoes. But if you click on “Dealer Locator” you get a pop-up box telling you this functionality is coming soon.

Would it not make sense to focus the corporate resources on telling people where to buy the shoes first and then worry about the mystical incantations and flying logos?

Happily and despite all this I was able to find a telephone number for their Canadian distributor and they pointed me to Proude’s, J. Redshoes and Sporting Intentions as Charlottetown dealers, so perhaps I’ll have access to a ready supply. Stay tuned.


Our adventures in NYC continued for several more days…

Thursday we were back at MacWorld to scour the trade show, followed by a pleasant visit to the new Apple store in SoHo (which is directly across the street from 100 Prince St., New York City, which must prove something). This gave us an opportunity to visit the MOMA Store and the Clifford the Big Red Dog Store too, both of which were great, but for different reasons, or at least in different ways.

On the way back to our hotel from SoHo we committed a Subway Error (the last of several that day) and somehow Dave ended up in Queens while I ended up under Rockefeller Center. Panic ensued and then subsided.

Thursday dinner was at a fantastic Indian restaurant on east 58th which was far too rushed (our fault) to enjoy properly. We then emerged into the rainy New York twilight to try and find a cab to take us across town to the Ricky Jay. It was at this point that we discovered that it’s hard to get a cab in the rain. Luckily we stumbled (we are good stumblers) across a presumably illegal black limo who artfully deposited us 15 blocks away in 15 minutes. We arrived at the theatre at about 8:01 p.m., just as we did the night before for the Mike Daisey. We felt like Masters or the City.

Friday Dave went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I headed south to my favourite Fountain Pen Hospital to buy a yellow fountain pen, and then over to J&R to purchase various geek supplies.

We spent the balance of Friday taking various taxis and flights back to Halifax (it takes longer to get from midtown to JFK than it does to get from JFK to Logan in Boston). We resisted the temptation to take Delta’s $250US bribe to stay overnight in Boston due to a full flight and arrived in Halifax at about 10:30 p.m.

After a week of “excuse me Sir, but you’ve been selected for a random security check” happening to me 100% of the time (presumably because I was one of those wonky “not flying back to the place from whence I came” fliers), justice was mine when Dave got diverted into the “let’s just double check the amount of goods you say you bought against reality” line (he passed with honourable flying colours).

When it was into Dave’s truck and a quick drive back to the Island. We both agreed that the sweet Maritimes air is much preferable to that in New York.

Life is Large

“Life is large — bigger than the both of us.” So sing The Kennedys, the husband and wife folk duo I saw last weekend in New Beford, MA at Summerfest. Today, four days later, Dave and I were standing in the heat of midday New York in front of the Javits Convention Centre. We were done with MacWorld for the day and waiting for a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Given our nature, this also involved a lot of flitting around exploring various bus options at the same time, but finally we agreed that despite the punishing heat, we would wait for a taxi. And at that exact moment a minivan pulled up in front of us. I noticed it was driven by a skinny red-haired man with sideburns. Then I noticed a little statue on the dash. Then I noticed a funky woman in the passenger seat. Then I realized that I was staring at The Kennedys, now hundreds of miles to the south, and by some freaky coincidence driving in front of me. Life is large.

Later the same day. After a taci ride north and much needed rest at the Hudson, we headed out into the less hot but still hot New York streets in search of supper. Dave had identified our target restaurant, an Italian place called Gabriel’s at 11 West 60th. Being the de facto NYC expert of the group (having been here three times before), I unexpertly guided us to the very far side of Central Park where we discovered that the numbers on 60th St. West start on the opposite side of the Park. Magically, despite the heat and hunger, Dave and I managed to keep from killing each other on the steps traceback, and arrived, mildly exhausted, at Gabriel’s a half an hour later.

Now, ever since I went into a chi chi restaurant in Toronto when I was 18 and ordered a glass of Beaujolis Nouveau (which I can probably not spell to this day) and was laughed at, I have had a paranoia about restaurants that are north of the “family dining” space in chi chidom (I thought I was being laughed at in a “hah, you idiot, don’t you know the Beaujolis hasn’t been pressed yet” sort of way; it turns out I was being laughed at in a “hah, you idiot teenager, don’t you know that you are an idiot teenager” kind of way). So to enter Gabriel’s, from the name of which alone you can tell is going to be daunting to someone like me, required some pluck. Luckily my machismo prevented me from admitting any of this to Dave, so entered we did.

I need not have worried.

Our dinner at Gabriel’s was transcendent. The maitre’d was friendly and helpful. The server was a God walking among us. And the food was simply excellent. I had the best salad of my life (greens, walnuts, fresh dates, gorgonzola cheese), a very tasty pasta dish with garlic, tomato and Maine crab, and, perhaps best and most surprising of all, a cold plum soup with a lime sorbet for dessert. The kind of meal that makes you happy to be alive, and hopeful that you will eat this well again someday. Ahhh.

After dinner we wandered out into the still luke warm New York night. It was about 7:30 p.m. When we were planning the trip, we’d toyed with the idea of getting tickets to see the “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.com” show, but had opted for the Ricky Jay show we’re going to see tomorrow night instead. On the spur of the moment, however, we decided to make a run for last minute tickets to Dog Years, and looked around for a cab. As soon as the urge for a cab occured to us, a cabbie walked out of a store and said “are you looking for a cab” and guided us to his cab parked right in front of us. It was at this point that we realized we had no idea where the Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce St. was, and so we placed ourselves in the care of our helpful driver. And started driving. And driving. And driving. When our driver learned that we were from Canada, he challenged us to name any Canadian province and he would name the capital. He batted 1000. He even knew about Thunder Bay, and what the capital of Greenland was. And driving. And driving. Finally, at approximately 8:02 p.m. we arrived at the theatre. We jumped out. Dave asked about tickets. “The show’s just about to start!” they said. “We’ll take two,” we said. Hussle bussle. We took our seats. The lights dimmed and the show started. We felt like we’d mastered New York City navigation.

The Dog Years show was quite entertaining. It’s an hour and half long monologue, with no intermission, by Mike Daisey about his hiring by, work for, and resignation from Amazon.com. He gave an energetic and interesting performance and I’m glad we caught it. It also make me feel a little like the mill workers must have felt like going to Ibsen plays about the plight of the mill workers (assuming, of course, that Ibsen did did write plays about mill workers): it was a theatrical commentary on my industry and its capacity to suck out your soul. I’m sure I will feel the after effects.

Speaking of which, last night I had the worst sleep of my life. I think it was the combined effects of being over-tired, having injested too much ice cream and peppermint-gumdrop infested muffins earlier, and a certain unease with the large collection of feather pillows on my bed. Also, there’s a very intruding air conditioner in my room. And the knowledge that I had to get up at 6:10 a.m. to be able to get a seat for the Steve Jobs keynote.

As a result of this sleep depravation, I had very weird dreams. The first one involved a secret laboratory run by Ann Thurlow in which she was cross-breeding pigeons and chickens. The second concerned an escapade in which Dave stole a London double decker bus and drove it madly over sidewalks, with Catherine and Oliver and I in the back, in a hurry to get to MacWorld. Read into all of this what you will.

After Dog Years we wandered aimlessly but, as luck would have it, directly to the Christopher St. subway stop, where we caught a subway to 42nd St. and then walked north through the bright lights of the Big City to our hotel.

I now must try and recover from the lack of sleep from last night with a healthy dose tonight. More MacWorld tomorrow, perhaps a visit to the new Apple SoHo store, and the Ricky Jay after dinner. Friday it’s home to the Island.