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Monday, December 14, 2009

What goes around, comes around (a little tip)

One of life's little annoyances is having to fish out my reading glasses every time I need to figure out which of my iPod ear-buds goes into which ear.

Yes, in case you hadn't noticed, there is very small offset of the ear-bud relative to the center-point of the stem, allowing it to fit more comfortably into either the right or left ear.  Therefore, to guide the user, there is a small gray letter  'L' or 'R' printed on the stem of each ear-bud. 

All fine and good... unless (like me) you need reading glasses to see that small gray letter.  Then it becomes a hassle and you find yourself simply settling for 50-50 odds of getting the right fit with the first try.

One evening last week I found myself standing in the check-out line of a supermarket near my office when a young woman came up behind me (and my full shopping cart) with three items in her hands; a baguette, a package of sliced yellow cheese and a tomato. 

For some reason this particular supermarket doesn't have an express line, so shoppers often have to deal with an annoying series of people with "just one or two items" who ask to cut the line. 

I knew that if I let her cut in front of me, anyone in the store with just a few items would gravitate to me like lions to the weakest member of the herd.  So to head off the inevitable question, I fished out my iPod shuffle and stuck the ear-buds into my ears. 

The wrong ears, of course.  So I switched the ear-bud placement and exerted a lot of mental effort into trying to ward off the tap on the shoulder and inevitable request to cut the line.  But to my surprise, the young woman waited patiently behind me, watching me fiddle with my ear-buds... and didn't say a word. 

After a few minutes I started to feel bad... my order would take some time to ring up, and hers would be bagged and gone in the time it would take me to take out my wallet.  So I took out the earphones and offered to let her cut in front of me.

She accepted gratefully... and as she went ahead in line I took out my reading glasses and went about trying to figure out how to correctly position the ear-buds. 

Noticing this, the woman started to laugh.  She explained that she had the same trouble seeing things up close, and almost always used to put her ear-buds in the wrong ear.  "But", she explained, "a friend showed me a neat trick".

Without asking, she reached over, took the headphones from my hands and in one quick movement she took the wire leading to the left ear-bud and wrapped it once around the right one at the point where the two wires diverge... inserting the ear-bud through the loop she'd created and then pulled the knot tight.

"There", she said, as she let the earphones drop back to my chest.  "Now you'll never have to guess which is is which again.  The right ear-bud will always hang slightly lower than the left"

I looked down and noticed that she was correct... because of the small loop knot she'd made, there was about a quarter-inch difference in the relative length of the ear-bud wires.


It was such a simple thing, this little tip of hers... but it has eliminated a big source of annoyance in my life.  And to think, she might never have shared it if I hadn't offered to let her go ahead of me in line. 

Just one more reason to be nice.

Oh yeah, one more thing:  Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on December 14, 2009 | Permalink


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There are letters on the ear buds? Really?!

Guess my new glasses aren't giving me as accurate a picture of the world as I'd thought....


Posted by: zahava | Dec 14, 2009 3:22:20 PM

I tend to put the wrong ear-bud into my ear quite often although I can still (just) read the tiny letters. I just swap ear-buds whenever I get them wrong! Thanks for the tip anyway but it is ok to tighten the cord?

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 14, 2009 4:00:20 PM

Zahava... I'm surprised you can see the iPod. :-)

Ilana-Davita... I wouldn't tighten it too much... the wires aren't that strong. But mine has stayed in place for a week without shwoing any signs of loosening from just the mild pressure she put on the cord when she tied the knot.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 14, 2009 4:12:49 PM

I was gonna suggest, take a black sharpie (or white-out, depending on the color of the headphones) and mark one of them.

Posted by: Michael Kopinsky | Dec 14, 2009 7:13:48 PM

As my grandmother used to say: That should be your worst problem. :)

Happy Chanukah!

Posted by: psachya | Dec 14, 2009 8:12:07 PM

This is for Hebrew/English bilinguals only (my apologies to you monolinguals out there):

Q: What do you call a vampire's MP3 player?

A: rPod.

See? I too am a giver.

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Dec 14, 2009 8:13:53 PM

You could also put a dot of nail polish on one earbud? A nice bright red would stand out nicely, would last a long time and won't damage the cords.

Posted by: Martha | Dec 14, 2009 8:30:21 PM

I never knew about the letters and I can see the damn things. Thank you Lasik and thank you Trep for a useful tip.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 15, 2009 12:14:54 AM

Of course, the main reason you want the left earbud in the left ear and the right earbud in the right ear has nought to do with how the buds fit... it's so that you get the correct stereo channel in each ear. If you get 'em reversed, you'll be hearing your music with a "reverse stereo" effect... not really all that pleasant.

Me, I loves me my Altec-Lansing BackBeat 903 wireless stereo headphones... they are a little larger than earbuds but are far more comfortable, and they deliver excellent sound without disconnecting you from the world around you. And on top of all that, they're wireless: no getting tangled up in those damnable leetle wires.

Posted by: Elisson | Dec 15, 2009 2:08:09 AM

Earplugs for motorcyclists (some carrying sound, some just to block road noise) usually have a dot on one or both. bLue for Left, Red for Right.

Of course after putting on hearing aids (with earmolds) every day for almost 40 years, I can tell just by the feel which earmold, earplug, etc., go in which ear. But hopefully none of you should acquire that skill from needing aids.

Posted by: JDMDad | Dec 15, 2009 4:42:34 AM

Hmmm... I'm wondering if this woman 'geniuns' was attractive or not!!!!?????

Posted by: val | Dec 15, 2009 4:57:36 AM

"Therefore, to guide the user, there is a small gray letter 'L' or 'R' printed on the stem of each ear-bud. "

what's the difference if you put it in the "wrong" ears.
i personally never pay attention.

Posted by: lion of zion | Dec 15, 2009 6:46:25 AM

Michael Kopinsky... Unless the mark is very large, it would be just as invisible to me as the letter. And if it were to be large enough to see, it would mar the clean, elegant white of the Apple design.

psachya ... Even small problems are satisfying to solve.

QuietusLeo ... Oy.

Martha... As with the earlier suggestion of using a black sharpie to mark one ear-bud, the clean simple look of the Apple ear-buds is very pleasing. A mark... especially in a bright color... would detract from that. I don't believe that a loose loop in the cable will damage them at all.

Jack ... Don't thank me... well, you know the rest.

Elisson ... If I could afford them I'd be wearing Bose headphones... but since the stock headphones that came with the iPod are perfectly serviceable, i don't see a change in my immediate future. Oh, and while I have never been bothered by a reverse stereo affect, it is certainly disconcerting to listen to a recording of a classical piece played by an American symphony and hear the cellos, double basses and low brass coming from the 'wrong' sides of the orchestra.

JDMDad... If I have to see the dot, we're talking about fishing out the glasses again. :-)

val ... actually she was a beast, but thanks for assuming I'd only let a hottie cut in front of me in line. :-)

lion of zion ... As Elisson pointed out, there is a definite right and wrong way to split the sound, but most people aren't going to notice that. However, the fit is very uncomfortable if you have them in the wrong ear.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 15, 2009 9:02:18 AM

QuietusLeo - I don't get it (and I know Hebrew). Please explain.

Posted by: jake | Dec 15, 2009 1:51:21 PM

QuietusLeo - I don't get it (and I know Hebrew). Please explain.

Posted by: jake | Dec 15, 2009 1:51:23 PM

Jake - rPod sounds like ערפד which of course means "vampire". Get it?

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Dec 15, 2009 9:54:32 PM

Ah, ok. Thanks :)

Posted by: jake | Dec 15, 2009 10:30:58 PM

I love the story. That is actually happening especially when you are at the age where you're eyesight are not good at all. I find your article so interesting! I learned something new.

Posted by: sunglasses | Jul 1, 2010 3:25:34 PM

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