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Two Pairs of Headphones Enter

I like to listen to music, I like to listen to podcasts whenever I have the opportunity. I’m more often than not in an environment that will find it challenging to tolerate my personal taste in audio recordings of both kinds in the long run.

The obvious solution to this problem is a decent pair of headphones that provide good sound quality, comfort, durability, and fold up for transport.

Your mileage may vary greatly on any of these criteria for any given headphone model and it can be tough to find the optimal solution for the personal taste.

The search may involve iterations, even dead ends. Like with many other devices, it may be necessary to (more or less happily) submit into using a specific model for a given amount of time, if only to learn enough about one’s requirements in the hope that it will be possible to find a better solution come time and opportunity.

In this spirit, I have recently replaced my Sony MDR-1 RB by a pair of AKG K545 headphones. While my memory of the Sony is fresh and my experience with the AKG ramps up I figure I should write down the differences between the two devices according to my personal perception1:

Cable

The cable of the K545 is thinner than the cable that ships with the MDR1. I have read several complaints from reviewers on Amazon that claim a thinner cable means less quality.

So far, I cannot confirm this conclusion. On the contrary, the thinner cable works much better for me because it has less weight such that it doesn’t sink into the gap between my chest and my jacket and pulls at the headphone with every movement of my head.

Sound

The K545 sounds better. By a lot. The sound seems more detailed over the entire band, the MDR1 sounds “muffled” in comparison. The AKG’s bass sounds punchy in comparison, but overall I think it is just that the Sony is just too weak on the bass. But again, it is not just that.

Strangely, the only aspect where, according to my ears, the Sony is nearly on par with the AKG is spoken audio (read podcasts).

Build Quality

AKG wins. Metal vs. plastic, it’s that easy. And I’m not bothered in general with the Sony’s plastic build, it is that kind of plastic that audibly creaks with every movement of the head.

I’m well aware that I’m comparing a two year old MDR1 to a new K545, which may not entirely be fair. However, I’m pretty sure that the creaking was present from the beginning and only got worse over time.

There is no such issue with the AKG.

Neck Dropping

This is way easier with the MDR1 thanks to the less sturdy build and the shape of the earcups. The K545 drops less elegant, and this is in part the fault of the round earcups and the rest of the blame goes to the headband (which is wider than the headband of the MDR1).

Wind

Walking in strong wind with headphones on can be unpleasant because wind generates noise. However, the K545 is way less susceptible to wind than the MDR1.

The latter sometimes literally howls in the wind, thanks(?) to a small hole at the top of each earcup that, when exposed to wind, maybe the source of the howling noise.

Comfort

That’s a close call between the two models. The Sony is a bit more comfortable to wear (in terms of pressure on the ears) over a longer amount of time. On the other hand, the AKG isn’t uncomfortable by any means.

It fits tight enough to provide a good sealing against the environment but the pressure on the ears is not too hard.

I had to readjust the Sony every single time I put it on. That is, as soon as you remove the Sony from your head (and as the immediate result of that) the adjustment is gone. In contrast to that, I have adjusted the AKG to my head dimensions once right after I unboxed it, and I never had to change the adjustment since then.

The lack of higher temperatures kept me from gaining any experience with the AKG. Let’s see how the AKG makes it through the summer. I’m confident because the AKG’s earcups are made from leather and that should, at least in theory, work better than the leather substitute on the MDR.

Transport

There is not much difference between the two models. The folding space occupied by the AKG is definitely in the near range of what the Sony requires. I should know because I’m using the bag that shipped with the Sony for transporting the AKG now2.

None of them folds to a tiny package that fits into your jacket pocket, but obviously none of them has been designed for this purpose. Still, I usually have enough space in my backpack to keep my headphones and therefore the folding space is not a big issue for me.

Conclusion

Initially, I was very hesitant to even try to replace my sort of trusty pair of headphones with a new candidate. Even though3 I have done a ton of research, you can never be sure how the purchase turns out.

There’s always the risk that some detail spoils the fun to the point of regret. And as much as I love to wear headphones, the process of shopping for them is nothing that I’d like to repeat on a monthly basis.

Despite my doubts, the purchase turned out the right thing to do. The longer I’m using the AKG the happier I am with my decision. And so, the pair that’s eventually leaving the arena is the one with the letters AKG printed in bold letters on the headband.

  1. The order of topics is arbitrary and does not represent any personal priority

  2. The Sony’s transport bag isn’t great, but unfortunately the AKG ships without any transport container of any kind. So I’m using the Sony bag on the basis that anything is better than nothing.

  3. Or, maybe, because of it.

Taskmator

To-do apps. Again. I know, this is starting to look like an obsession. But it is fully under control. Trust me on this.

The point that I’m trying to make is that there is room for more than one, depending on the requirements applicable for a given situation. In other words, there is an entire spectrum of capabilities that a to-do app can come with and which may or may not recommend it for a given purpose. Allow me to explain.

There is the “feature-heavy” end of the spectrum that is firmly occupied by apps like Things or OmniFocus. These apps come with a rich feature set and a sophisticated UI to support the user in utilizing these features as good as possible.

And then there is the “lightweight” end of the spectrum that consists of apps that come with a very minimal feature-set with respect to keeping track of your tasks.

For the sake of the argument, there are TO-DOs and there are to-dos. The difference is fuzzy, of course, but here are some characteristics of the lightweight to-dos:

  • They don’t have a deadline or a collection of them shares the same deadline.
  • No need for push notifications and reminders.
  • No recurrence, i.e. once completed, it is OK to throw away the to-dos.
  • The items on the list are thematically related.

Clearly, it would be possible to track this kind of to-dos in apps like Things or OmniFocus as well, albeit with a certain amount of friction.

To overcome this friction, it would be possible to utilize a kind of app behavior that facilitates adding a bulk amount of (fine-grained) tasks to the list. This typically comes in combination with the ability to easily mark a given task as completed or assign further qualifications. Fittingly, there is little or no UI to work with. For example, this kind of app is well suited for setting up shopping lists.

I have always had a weak spot for the idea behind TaskPaper that used to be the prototype of the lightweight to-do apps. The app uses structured plain text for the specification of tasks as well as tags (e.g. @done, @cancelled) that further qualify the task. TaskPaper as a product is available on OS X only.

Back in 2011 I wrote:

The most compelling feature is that the content is stored as a mere text file that can be put on the dropbox so that other instances of Taskpaper can access the same to-do list. Just let dropbox take care of the syncing!

There used to be a first-party app for iOS as well but this one has been discontinued nearly a year ago. Recently, I came across an article on Macdrifter endorsing the app Taskmator as possible counterpart of TaskPaper on iOS.

And sure enough, I like the approach taken by Taskmator1. The app is nicely designed and a pleasure to use. I like the swipe gesture to set a task to “done” and also the strikethrough applied to these tasks has a nice touch:

After I had created a couple of files TaskPaper-style in Taskmator the app started to crash on my iPhone. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop crashing. I tried the usual suspects but could not make any progress in achieving more stability.

I guess there is something wrong with the connection to Dropbox, i.e. the crashing stopped after I disconnected Taskmator from Dropbox. This conclusion does not provide any comfort, of course.

The bottom line is that I have to either wait for a fix or start looking for a replacement. Fortunately, there is hope: Editorial 1.1 supports the TaskPaper format. The developer, Ole Zorn plays it low:

Now, before you get too excited, the new TaskPaper mode is not a full replacement for the TaskPaper app, it’s actually more like an additional syntax highlighting mode with a couple of convenience features for editing lists, but it should be possible to build workflows for a lot of the other things.

But in my opinion the implementation of the TaskPaper format in Editorial is more than decent and doesn’t need any excuse. Sure, the presentation doesn’t look exactly like Taskmator and it is necessary to use the file extension “.taskpaper” in order to make Editorial apply the applicable presentation, but that’s hardly a reason not to use Editorial for this purpose:

I especially dig the fact that this is another way to take benefit from a great app, in the spirit of the idea to use one app for many aspects and learn to use it really well.

Again, neither Editorial nor Taskmator will ever replace Things on my devices. However, for all the lightweight tasks that are easier maintained in a pure text format I’m now having a proper alternative at hand.

  1. Although I’m slightly irritated by the fact that the “developer website” registered in the App Store is a generic Facebook page

Elusive Markdown Package

For some reason, a popup-window complaining about the lack of an available Markdown package started to show up on every launch of Sublime Text:

This is strange because the Markdown package is a stock package delivered with Sublime Text itself. It is hard to see which other package might have messed with my installation to make the Markdown package unable to parse.

While trying to hunt down the cause of this issue, I found out that there was no Markdown package whatsoever available in either of the following folders:

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages
~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Installed Packages

In my particular case, the Markdown package is on the list of ignored packages anyway in order to fulfill a requirement for running the far more capable Markdown Editing package:

"ignored_packages":
[
	"Vintage",
	"Markdown"
],

But still, Sublime Text is complaining about the missing package and will do so on the occasion of every single launch.

It was obvious that to make the error message go away I’d have to provide the package. But how? See, it’s missing.

I started digging into the contents of the Sublime Text.app itself and sure enough, I stumbled upon the missing package

/Applications/Sublime Text.app/Contents/Packages/Markdown.sublime-package

So, the fix would require me to copy this to the “Installed Packages” folder, right?

Unfortunately, that does not work. What did work, however, is to rename the file Markdown.sublime-package to Markdown.zip, and put the contents of the archive into

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages

According to the Sublime Text Unofficial Documentation, the classification of packages is arbitrary and should therefore not really impact the behavior as long as the package format in the respective folder is correct.

Fortunately, I don’t really care about the stock Markdown package as long as Sublime stops throwing error messages at me. As for this aspect, my mission is completed.

You Read It Here First

Several years ago, I was wildly speculating that Amazon might release a tablet with two displays: LCD and e-ink, one on each side1.

This didn’t happen, but now The Verge runs an article about the YotaPhone 2 does exactly that.

I still find this approach interesting, although I can see the downsides in terms of price and device thickness. I’m also not sure how the existence of two displays impacts the mechanical stability of a device with a (well, approximately) 5” display.

And yet, what if this becomes2 the new normal a couple of years into the future? I probably wouldn’t be unhappy about it.

  1. I’m trying to omit the terms front and back for the obvious reason that it may depend on your point of view to decide which is which. It seems that there is only one side with a speaker at the top and this may help to settle the issue.

  2. I know, I know, several years ahead display technology will blow everything that we know now out of the water. But still.

Todoist

In theory, I have zero need for yet another GTD tool. Things is fine for me, I use it every day and couldn’t be happier with it.

On the other hand, what engineer worth his salt would not be willing to here and there check out other stuff in the pursuit of something1 that may even be better than the already quite sophisticated workflow.

On a related note, Todoist has received flying color endorsements from Federico Viticci during recent episodes of the Connected podcast.

So I gave the whole thing the benefit of the doubt and dipped my toe into Todoist water. Like Things, Todoist is available on all the platforms I care about.

Unlike Things, it is also available in the nearest Web browser. This doesn’t make a big difference for me because, as mentioned before, there are native apps on the platforms I care about.

Did I say “native”? Well, at least when it comes to the Mac app, doubt is more than warranted. I didn’t care enough to research whether my impression is correct, but this screen shot speaks volumes.

The screen shot has been taken right after one of my desperate attempts to create a recurring item in Todoist. I tried in the Mac app and I tried in the Web app, and the result looks identical on both platforms.

Entering recurring deadlines is, as far as I can see, only possible by trying to convince the natural language parser to start making sense of my input. This works for simple cases, but everything falls apart as soon as things get a little bit on the non-trivial side.

Mind you, I’m totally OK with natural language input as long as it gets me 70-80% to my goal. Even showcase apps for natural language parsing stumble here and there over my input. That’s OK, at least as long as there is a dialog-based fallback where things can be sorted out properly.

But if natural language is your only option, as in Todoist’s case for recurring task deadlines, it’s either 100% success or fail.

So, in my case: fail2. And that’s exactly when Todoist displays an error message like the depicted that is only partly visible. Yes, the left part of the pop-up dialog is clipped at the very left border of the Todoist app in the same way that this dialog is clipped in a web browser3.

I am very well aware that this description of my first impression of Todoist is not properly supported duly by a thorough research of how I could have improved my initial time with Todoist.

In other words, I’m admittedly not playing fair at this point because I could have spent more time to find out how to embrace Todoist and follow Federico on his journey.

Maybe it’s because I’m just not desperate enough. See, I’m in the comfortable situation to already have a perfectly working solution.

One way or the other, this concludes my experiment. Whatever goodies Todoist may have in store that may convince me to move over will remain unexplored. There’s simply too much friction. If I cannot manage to do the easy stuff with little effort I have totally no incentive to even try the potentially harder things.

  1. As they say, better is the enemy of good.

  2. In my case, the deadlines are set to one minute before midnight no matter how hard I try.

  3. Trust me on this, I checked.