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Cheap headphones.

In my recent review of RHA’s MA350 earphones I concluded a paragraph lamenting the vast and frankly overwhelming choice of budget headphones like this:

Limiting your search by price range, manufacturer/brand and so on obviously helps a great deal but you’re still left with hundreds of choices. Picking through them wasn’t a chore i was all that bothered about completing.

So, despite personally having settled on the RHA pods for now, I was very pleased to learn (via twitter) that somebody has actually put in the time and effort to perform this unenviable task for us. Hurray for the internet! If you’re in the market for a new pair of reasonably-priced headphones, go read The Wirecutter’s “Best In-Ear Headphones Under $30” piece. They’ve set some perhaps questionable criteria in order to quickly reduce the numbers involved but overall it is an excellent bit of work. I’m certainly not holding my breath waiting for something more comprehensive.

Sadly, the winning headphones – Panasonic’s RP-TCM125 Ergo Fit – don’t appear to be available in the UK, or at least they don’t go by that model number. On this side of the pond, RP-HJE125E look to have the same bud design and same specs, except there’s no mention of an inline microphone. Meanwhile, RP-TCM120 look like they have the correct single-button mic but the buds don’t look quite right. I’ve found no reviews of either of these and thus no clues to their quality, though the reception for Panasonic’s (again very similar) RP-HJE120-E1 on Amazon is pretty good. Best of all though, any of these Panasonic headphones can be had for well under £10. Probably worth a punt if you’re looking.

PS. I’m also still rather enamoured with the look of the Philips SHE6000/10 earphones, a pair which again get very favourable customer reviews. I would definitely like to try these too.

Update: The Wirecutter’s reviewer, Lauren Dragan, suggests that the Panasonic RP-HJE125 are the UK equivalent of the RP-TCM125. The uncertainty over a microphone remains but you can’t really complain when paying just £6.

Update, July 2015: I bought a pair of the RP-HJE125s some time ago, you can read my quick review here. Also, note that the above “Best In-Ear Headphones Under $30” link now re-directs to a newer, updated Wirecutter review. If you want to see the original review text I was referring to here, make use of the Wayback Machine.

The Bear and the Hare.

I guess by now you’re likely to be familiar with John Lewis’ Christmas TV ad, The Bear and the Hare.

Just in case you aren’t, here it is…

Whether you like or dislike the advert (or couldn’t care less), I expect you assumed it was created with CG. Yes? Well, you’d be wrong. Rather incredibly, they’ve drawn those 2D characters and then animated them with stop-motion on a 3D set. An extremely lengthy and delicate operation requiring thousands of models but one which has yielded a beautiful result. I really admire this sort of work, even if it is just to help a big name retailer start hawking Christmas in November.

Creative Review has the full story, which I fully recommend you giving over 10 minutes to.

Update: The original John Lewis video seems to have been made unavailable, so i’ve swapped the above embed for someone else’s copy…

On ideas.

In June I visited Sheffield Hallam University’s Creative Spark exhibitions and particularly enjoyed looking around the works of the Product Design students. There was a lot of smart thinking on display and several of the designs caught my attention, especially Samuel Carr’s Life Collection kitchen products and Peter Larkham’s Branch lighting system. It was an interesting event and provided a useful insight into how our young designers see the future1, but I thought little more of it until a few weeks later when i saw Tile:

I was immediately reminded of something i’d seen at Creative Spark – Pin by Jordan Willingham.

Pin by Jordan Willingham

Clearly, these two products are not identical (and in more ways than the fact that Tile is nearing production whereas Pin is little more than a design) but the idea behind each is very similar and conceptually they work in much the same way. Had Pin not been developed with a focus on one particular purpose then I suspect Jordan may have arrived at a product even more similar to Tile.

More recently, the web seems to have become rather excited by Dave Hakkens’ PhoneBloks concept.

It is a very appealing idea but flawed and largely impractical in many ways, the chief of which was immediately highlighted by John Gruber:

“But even if Phonebloks works as advertised, you’d still be throwing out old components on a regular basis, and the march of progress is such that it won’t take long until your base board is outdated too.”

Which is exactly the same thought i’d had some months earlier when i saw Oliver Rooker’s Click concept at the Creative Spark exhibition.

Click by Oliver Rooker

Again, Click is not identical to PhoneBloks but it is clearly a result of the same train of thought. The ideas share the same pros and same cons. Furthermore, this idea itself isn’t particularly new – it’s the modular desktop PC concept that has been mulled for years and years (including by me) but applied to a smartphone. Isn’t it weird how these things occur to people apparently independently?

I’ve long found it peculiar how similar ideas or innovations crop up at around the same time. I guess the most famous examples of this would be Darwin and Wallace independently formulating theories of evolution, Bell and Gray separately applying for the patent of the telephone on the same day, or Edison and Tesla’s well-documented competition over the distribution of electricity2.

Are such events a result of two (or more) people having had very similar life/work experiences? The same inspirations? Have they simply studied the same academic texts? Absorbed the same body of knowledge? Are they subconsciously copying the someone else’s prior art? Or maybe just unashamedly stealing it? Could it be a complete coincidence? Or perhaps some combination of all of the above?

I doubt we can say for sure. And i doubt i’m the first to think this.

Update: Here’s an excellent piece on this subject by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker from 2008. It’s quite long but a really interesting read.

Update #2: While this blog post sat in my Drafts folder, Motorola have gone and teamed up with Dave Hakkens (and community) to work together on the PhoneBloks idea. They’re calling it Project Ara. Colour me intrigued. (But probably still rather pessimistic.)

  1. Modular. The future is definitely modular, according to the Creative Spark exhibition at least. Almost all of the product designs had some modular aspect. Or maybe modular-ism is an idea that permanently floats around design undergrads? Like chicken pox around toddlers, the wearing of baseball caps backwards around 10 year olds, and that feeling of having invented all things sexual around teenagers. 

  2. and more


Apropos of nothing – though perhaps meaningful at some later date – a powerful little snippet from “Country of the Blind” by Christopher Brookmyre:

Disbelief was a reaction borne of so much wolf-crying, with the public so desensitised by the hyperbole with which the most tedious events were related (and the deceitful exaggeration with which the most harmless quote could be twisted or recontextualised to create “a sensation” where there was barely a story), that when something truly remarkable happened, you just couldn’t deal with it. The media, having robbed every superlative of its meaning through misuse and over-use, did not have a vocabulary with which to convey such import. Once you’ve used up all your language of astonishment on Hugh Grant getting his cock sucked, how do you express the shock of thirty schoolchildren being gunned down in a gym hall…?