Normal Ears – custom 3d printed headphones

If there was one thing that Apple did (and they did many), it was create a vibrant market for headphones. Since the advent of the iPod, white headphones where every where. Prior to this, most people didn’t care about headphones and most headphones were black and boring. Fast forward to this year, where headphones have become so iconic, and fashion oriented, that Apple purchased Beats Audio for over 3 billion.

But the problem with headphones, is that they are “one size fits all”. We all know that for most products, this approach leads to some amount of discomfort. And specifically, I’m referring to “earbud style”.

Earbud headphones are great because they are compact and you can easily take them anywhere. The challenge with earbud style headphones is that:

  • They don’t often “fit” very well, falling out of ears
  • The “in ear” ones require fiddling around with different size ear tips and at least for me cause a lot of discomfort from the pressure in my ear.

These problems are hard to solve. Up till recently “custom” earmolds for earbud headphones (offered by Shure, Etymotyic and the like) require a visit to a hearing specialist where they take a mold of your ear and create a silicon tip. Usually for the cost of a few hundred dollars.

Well, there is a company trying to change that, and their headphones are called “Normals”

What is it?

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Normal ears are created in New York City using 3D printers. The way it works is that you download an app do your iOS or Android phone and take some photos of your ears. Based on those photos, they create custom fitted earbuds and ship them to you in 24 hours. Pretty neat. You can read more at Venturebeat:

The company’s big innovation is its ability to create $200, 3D-printed earbuds that are molded for your ears. Normal’s iPhone app can capture the contours of your ears just by taking a few photos while you hold a quarter up to your ear (for a common reference size). Your unique headphone frame is then 3D printed (the company has 10 Stratasys Fortus printers at work in its retail space) and then assembled and tested by a crew of employees.

You also get to personalize your earbuds in a number of different colors. I personally like that experience of creating something unique for me.

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Here is what customization looks like in the iOS app.

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Here are a picture of my earbuds in the custom case they made for me:

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I originally went with black everything and red plastic, but then decided the “red” was too orange for me, so they swapped it out for blue.

Normals are not cheap. at $199 you are making a pretty big investment in your ears. But given how much music I listen to on the go, commuting, and traveling, I felt that this was something I’d get a lot of value out of over time. A set of high quality headphones at the Apple Store is going to run you $79 – $500 and up, so this is a market segment where you can spend a little or a lot to listen to music.

Everything about creating them is fun. And their brand is very playful / whimsical.

Why did you get it?

I really like the idea of having earbuds with me at all times, but I can’t tolerate the discomfort the silicon / foam inserts cause after a while of listening to music. The Normals are very comfortable as they don’t go in to your ear canal, but they mainly sit over your ear canal supported by the custom 3d printed plastic. It’s mainly friction that’s holding them in place. They don’t fall out, so they are well suited for running too.

How has it made your life better?

I think it’s pretty remarkable that you can get custom items these days based on using an app on your phone and 3rd printing. I imagine that we’ll see a lot more of this over time.

Normals have the added benefit that when I commute, I can still hear road noise and sounds around me (they are not sound isolating). They are similar to the earbuds that come with the iPhone/iPod by default, but don’t fall out of your ear and sound much better.

Are you going to keep it?

Till something better comes a long. I’ve found them to be much more comfortable from regular earbuds (albeit not perfect). But there isn’t really a product that offers this much customization delivered so quickly.

If you are interested, you can order your own Normals by heading over to http://nrml.com/ and downloading their app. In about 10 min you’ll have taken the photos and customized your Normals.

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Simplehuman Sensor Pump

One of my life hacks is that I try and use the same product everywhere. For example, we have the same refillable soap dispensers in every bathroom, and we purchase one kind of “refill”, in bulk. That way when the soap runs out, we have plenty of refill on stock and it’s the same in every bathroom. In our house we have 7 places where we have a soap dispenser.

Why do I do this? I don’t want to think about any of this stuff. When the soap is low there is only 1 thing to do. Refill. When we are low on refill pouches there is only 1 thing to do. Buy more in bulk. I do that maybe 1x every 2 years.

There are other ways to apply this technique, but this post is about Soap dispensers.

What is it?

simplehuman makes a variety of soap dispensers. For those paying attention, simplehuman is also the company that makes those awesome makeup mirrors I told you about on mother’s day.

For pumps you have:

  • Rechargeable Pumps
  • Battery operated pumps
  • Hand pumps

The nice thing is you can spend as much or as little as you want, and the soap is all the same. You can buy the soap by the 1 or in bulk. I order them in bulk directly from simplehuman as their prices are the lowest. I hate paying for shipping just like you (Amazon Prime FTW), but for $4.99 I’m willing to get consistent prices on Soap (Amazon seems to have an inventory problem with this company and when that happens 3rd party sellers jack up the prices).

In terms of dispensers, we have a few of the simplehuman Compact Sensor Pump

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Amazon just sent me a simplehuman Rechargeable Bath Sensor Pump

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And we have a couple of the manual simplehuman 15-Ounce Square Push Pumps (for the adults in our bathroom)

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For a Kitchen or high volume soap area, you may want to upgrade to a larger pump (they come in 8oz and 13oz sizes)

The batteries for the non rechargeable ones last about 3-4 months. You can use AA rechargeable batteries, but they don’t seem to be as strong as Alkaline. The newer ones with the built in USB charging are lithium ion and should be amazing. But this comes at a large premium over the non rechargeable model.

For soap, we use the lavender soap and we get 6 packs direct from simplehuman.

note: it seems everyone is out of stock of lavender right now, which explains why the prices on Amazon are so high. 

Why did you get it?

We first saw these at my son’s pre-school. They use them there to prevent the spread of germs (getting on the soap container/pump) and preventing the kids from dispensing too much soap. Smart. I was thinking, why not get these for our entire house? I have certainly seen my kids use WAY too much soap.

How has it made your life better?

Simple is good. At least that’s what I think. And I don’t want to think about something as mundane as soap. Finally, this system produces very little “trash” or recycling assuming you are purchasing refills and using rechargeable batteries, the rechargeable pump or the hand pump.

Are you going to keep it?

We’ve been on this system for about a year now and it’s worked out great.

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The Greatest Hoodie Ever Made?

I’ve taken to wearing hoodies over the past few years. And why not? They are super comfortable for lounging around, traveling, wearing on spring / fall days. I have never found the perfect hoodie though. A few years ago I came close, with a really heavy weight lululemon sweatshirt, but I’m somewhere in between a large and a medium and they don’t quite fit me as well as I’d like.

That’s why when I heard about American Giant, I was intrigued.

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What is it?

It’s a hoodie! How special could a hoodie be? Well I’ll leave you to read the following article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, by Farhad Manjoo who put this company on the map:

The result is a sweatshirt with several design elements you won’t find on the competition. The most obvious difference is that American Giant’s hoodie is fitted—it sits close around your chest, then gently tapers in around your stomach, resulting in a garment that doesn’t look slouchy. At great expense—and after lots of experimentation—Manoux added a “side-panel” to the hoodie, a strip of stretchy fabric that joins the back of the hoodie to the front. The side panel gives the hoodie “mobility,” Manoux explained—it allows you to raise your arm all the way up without feeling the whole coat ride up on you. It also insures the hoodie against future expansion: As your stomach grows larger, the stretchy fabric will grow along with it.

 

For me, this design element of the side panel, is what makes this hoodie quite unique. I can raise my arm and not have the hoodie ride up my back.

Beyond this feature, it’s the most comfortable, soft, quality cotton product I’ve experienced.

You can watch this video to see how these are made.

Since Farhad wrote this article, they have been slammed with demand. It got so bad he wrote a followup article, “The Only Problem With the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, and goes into more detail on what makes this garment special.

I first purchased the Men’s Heavyweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt in Medium for $89 direct from them. The fit is tailored and I recommend following their size chart. I am 6’3″, 165lbs, 32 waist and the medium fits me like a glove. The sleeves are the right length and their is little slack anywhere.

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After receiving mine, I got another Men’s Midweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt for $79.

Lora was so impressed with this hoodie, she ordered some of the Women’s products. She got the Women’s Heavyweight Full Zip Mock Neck Sweatshirt.

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Here are the things I love about this hoodie:

  • Super thick plush cotton
  • Long sleeves
  • Tailored fit
  • Super comfy
  • Free shipping to and from
  • Great price
  • Made in the USA

Note: if you purchase an item using this link, you’ll get 15% off your order, and I’ll get a referral fee.

Why did you get it?

Like I mentioned. I love hoodies, and in my quest to find all things awesome, I was intrigued by all this hype.

How has it made your life better?

I’ll leave you with this:

It used to be a sweatshirt was just a sweatshirt—something we grab from the depths of our closets and throw on when we’re feeling lazy and sartorially uninspired. And technically, a sweatshirt is still just a sweatshirt, though if you ask someone from American Giant, they’d politely disagree. “The sweatshirt is the second most iconic silhouette behind the blue jeans,” says Bayard Winthrop. “But for a long time, no one was really passionate about sweatshirts.”

Are you going to keep it?

I now own the world’s greatest sweatshirt. And I agree with what others have said and written. Check them out.

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Wool Comforters

Like many of you, for most of our lives we’ve been sleeping with down comforters. I’m not sure how widespread others experience this, but personally, most of those nights I would overheat. I tried various “light” and “summer” fill comforters to no avail.

A few years ago while shopping for a mattress, the salesperson noted that our problems could probably be addressed by switching out our down comforter and cotton mattress pad for wool. Now when I think of wool, I think of itchy hot sweaters from my childhood. She assured me that wool is one of the best materials to cool (breathable) and warm. So based on that advice we decided to give it a shot. That is when we purchased a Natura “washable” wool comforter.

What is it?

Like it sounds, the Natura World Wash N Snuggle Comforter (Super King, King, Queen, Full, Twin), is a comforter (aka Duvet) that is simply made of wool instead of down. It’s “washable” which means you can place it in the washing machine to clean it, without worrying about it shrinking too much. Personally, I don’t recommend this, and we’ll probably just dry clean it.

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While we were at it, we also got a Natura wool matress pad, creating an envelope of wool around us.

Why did you get it?

Our main motivation here was to stop waking up hot. Which happened pretty often.

How has it made your life better?

I can’t tell you how different this is to sleep with. We’ve owned this comforter for 2 years now and I have never once woken up hot. My wife, who is famous for throwing the old down comforter on top of me to escape the heat, has never once done this.

In the summer and the winter we sleep fantastic. The comforter does a great job of regulating the heat.

There are a couple of “gotchas” to note.

  • This comforter is “thinner” and not as “full” as down. As such it lies more like a quilt on your bed.
  • It helps to have a duvet cover that is close to the actual dimensions of the comforter. As I learned a long time ago, there is no real “standard” size for comforter / duvets. They all range a little here and there. So finding “fitted” sheets for this comforter is important. This is probably a bigger problem for “King” beds since you have both Easter and California King beds but no real difference for comforters.

Are you going to keep it?

We are very happy with this purchase and can’t imagine going back to down.

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Vornado 660 Whole Room Air Circulator

It’s summer. If you are lucky, you have air conditioning. Most people in Seattle do not. When we purchased our house, one of the first things we did was get AC. Why? Because my wife (and honestly I) can’t sleep in a hot room. We have a 3 story, new house. As such it’s incredibly well insulated and when it gets hot, it stays hot for a long while.

When purchasing our house though, we made the mistake of getting whole house air conditioning because our house was plumbed for it. However in hindsight, that was a mistake. We would have been way better off installing a Ductless Mini-Split system in our 3 bedrooms. This would have provided the correct sleeping temperature in the only rooms that we need cooling, without wasting money cooling our whole house (mostly unnecessary here in Seattle). Ductless mini-split is designed for people that don’t have ducting (radiant heat or no heat), but they can also act as heat pumps and heat in the winter. Think of them as basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse to heat as well.

Anyway, what’s done is done. We have a problem though. Our bedroom is quite large (with vaulted ceilings), and on a moderately warm day (> 76) our room gets beaten by the sun, and with the vaulted ceilings doesn’t really cool down enough by the evening. After a few years of pondering a solution, it turned out some old school tech was all that was needed. A Fan.

note: scheduled for a different / future post is our wool duvet and bed cover, which probably has had the most profound impact on our sleep comfort.

What is it?

The Vornado 660 Whole Room Air Circulator is a Fan, but it’s not really designed to blow air at you. It’s designed to circulate the air in the room. And boy does this thing move air around. It turns out that air movement (or the lack theirof) is the primary reason our room didn’t cool down. Our ceiling would collect hot air, and that hot air would fall as the day went on, crushing the ability for our ducts to push enough cool air to keep things comfy.

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You can see from the photo, that this thing looks nice. It comes in White and Black [$99 @ Amazon]. We chose white for our room. It’s not a nice looking as say the $300-$400 Dyson Fans, but the cost / benefit to this guy is kinda nuts in my opinion.

The reason it’s tilted up because you are supposed to “point” it at say the corner ceiling of your room to get air circulating. You do not point it at your bed for example.

Why did you get it?

I got this particular Fan because of the rave reviews on Amazon, and my general familiarity with Vornado. I wanted to love the idea of getting a Dyson fan, but the reviews are pretty mixed and the cost is pretty high.

How has it made your life better?

We’ve had this Fan for a few weeks and my general observation is that it’s cooled our room about 3-4 degrees. That’s a pretty substantial difference for us.

I have placed it within the vicinity of our duct, and so it managed to capture cool air (roughly 50-60 degree) and blow it straight up to the vaulted ceiling, pushing the hotter air down back into the room.

The fan has 4 speed settings. The lowest setting produces a very comfortable flow of air with minimal noise. The 2nd setting is a bit stronger with a bit louder, but tolerable noise for sleeping. 3 and 4 are left for mega hot days (80+ degrees outside) and we leave it on 3-4 during the day and then 1-2 at night.

Are you going to keep it?

This should last a good long time. We plan on getting a smaller model for our daughter’s room which has a different problem. Too cold in the winter as her room is over our garage, and it tends to be a cold spot in our house.

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Duralex glass food storage

Today we are taking a detour to talk about something you probably don’t think much about… food storage.

My guess is that many of you have something that looks like this

credit: Melanie in the Middle - The Tupperware Cabinet

Credit: Melanie in the Middle – The Tupperware Cabinet

So did I. We had a mix of plastic and glass food storage. It got out of control. A few years back I decided to fix all this, standardizing on one kind of brand, and with stackable containers. This is when I discovered the Duralex Lys food storage that are made of glass (and by a french glass company that makes our drinking cups, Duralex Picardie Tumbler, also stackable)

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What is it?

The Duralex Lys are glass stackable food storage containers with blue lids. They come in a variety of sizes (all the same shape). It was rather confusing understanding how much and how many we would need. You can see the variety of shapes and sizes of the containers below.

Duralex Lys 5-Piece Square Bowl with Lids Set

 

Here is a guide of the sizes I put together:

  • 5.375 ounces = 3/4 cup = 3 1/2 inch bowl = Saladier 9
  • 10 ounces = 1 1/4 cup = 4 3/8 inch bowl = Saladier 11
  • 20 ounces = 2 1/2 cup = 5 1/2 inch bowl = Saladier 14
  • 36 ounces = 4 1/2 cup = 6 5/8 inch bowl = Saladier 17
  • 68 ounces = 8 1/2 cup = 7 7/8 inch bowl = Saladier 20

If you are not sure where to start, you can get a set that includes one of very size. This is what I did first. Then I order sets of 6 of the sizes I wanted.

I have found that the largest size isn’t something I use often, so the 1 that came with the set was plenty. Of course your needs may differ and you can get more of the 68oz container.

Here is what our cabinet looks like now:

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Why did you get it?

As I mentioned above, I was hoping we could store all our food storage containers on one shelf in our kitchen. Saving both space and simplifying the task of pulling out the right size container, and having enough of them to store the right amount of food.

How has it made your life better?

It’s really simplified our lives. Food storage is readily available, neatly stored in our island making the task of finding a container, and storing food easy. Also because the containers are glass and not plastic, we don’t have to worry about any kind of chemical nasties.

According to Duralex  this is what they have to say about their product:

  • Duralex is 2.5 times more resistant to breakage and chipping than normal glass, can also withstand sudden thermal shock: from -4°f to 266°f
  • Shock resistant tempered glass can go straight from the freezer to the microwave
  • Duralex glass is very hygienic; it is non-porous and does not absorb liquids, colors or flavor
  • Duralex plastic lids are BPA free, microwave safe and dishwasher safe
  • Freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe; Made in France

Are you going to keep it?

These are very durable and should last a decade or more.

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Sony RX100M3

I’ve been an avid photographer since I was 10 and got my first SLR (Nikon 2020). I’ve owned a number of digital cameras over the years. The first digital photo I shot was on March 14th 1998 of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC.

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It wasn’t till 2004 that I got my first Digital SLR, a Nikon D70. First photo I took with that camera, on March 28, 2004 is of the Bay Bridge

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According to Photoshop Lightroom, my wife and I have shot with 57 cameras (including phones) since 1998. My current camera, which I love to death, is a Fujifilm X-T1.

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This is the 4th Fujifilm camera I’ve owned and I cannot say enough about the quality of the images it takes. Like this on (1/680 @ f4.7 – ISO800):

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However, this post is not about my fancy camera. It’s about a remarkable point and shoot camera. One that you should absolutely consider getting, the Sony RX100M3 (M3 stands for the 3rd version).

What is it?

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The Sony RX100M3 ($798 @ Amazon.com) is a digital point and shoot camera. Sony has made 3 of these to-date and each one has improved on the last. They have all been highly reviewed and are considered the best (non professional) cameras on the market. This is an expensive Point and Shoot camera. There is no sugar coating the price. But what you get is the ability to capture photos that camera 2-3 times it’s price takes in something that will fit in your pocket (and likely take with you to more places).

I would urge you to read the following 2 articles to get a sense of what I am talking about. The first by David Pogue is written in layman’s terms, the second is a review by an acclaimed and authoritative web site that reviews cameras (also owned by Amazon.com)

 

Why did you get it?

I have a really nice camera and some really nice lenses. I mentioned that already. I also have an iPhone 5s, which takes pretty awesome pictures. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you….I got the Sony RX100 for a few reasons:

  1. My friends have been raving about it
  2. The articles have been raving about it
  3. It shoots at f1.8 which means beautiful depth of field, and low light photos without a flash (at high ISO)
  4. It has an electronic view finder. A first for a point and shoot.
  5. It has an articulating LCD screen for taking selfies (yes Angus, including selfie videos)
  6. I don’t always want to carry around my Fuji (like going to the beach, or out to dinner) and want something better than the iPhone
  7. I’m an avid photographer and wanted to see what Sony was up to

David Pogue ends his article with this sentiment that I think captures how I feel about this camera:

There’s an old saying in the photography business: The best camera is the one you have with you. I’d phrase it differently: The RX100 M3 is the best camera you can always have with you.

DP Review ends their review with:

The RX100 III is the most capable compact camera we’ve ever seen. With its built-in viewfinder and more consistently fast lens, there’s nothing that can provide better image quality in such a small package. It’s not the perfect camera to take shot-to-shot control over, but its capability means it justifies its high price tag.

How has it made your life better?

My wife now takes photos! This is a huge improvement over just me taking photos. Now I am actually in some pictures! This is a big deal honestly since I’m the family photographer.

But really, what this camera means is that we capture more amazing photos that we would not have otherwise taken.

Here is an example of a photo taken with the RX100M3 (1/800 @ f2.8 ISO 125)

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Are you going to keep it?

Cameras are not things I keep for very long. That’s just the way it is. I tend to keep a camera till the next version comes out. I usually sell it for 60-75% of what I paid for it, and get the new one. I basically “rent” cameras.

But my experience with this camera, is that I will probably upgrade to the M4, M5, M6 etc that is, unless Fuji can produce a competitive point and shoot camera like this. Rumor has it they will, but right now they have nothing that comes close (the Fuji X20 being the competitor)

I see a lot of people out there with pretty low end Nikon & Canon SLRs (D40/D60, Canon Rebel etc). Most of these cameras have only ever seen their “kit” lens, which tend to be cheaper, low quality lenses. If you have one of these cameras, I’d suggest that you take a look at replacing it some day with this camera (or it’s future incarnation). I think you’ll be really pleased. Probably even surprised.

The most ringing endorsement I can relate to you about this camera is that my wife commented on how incredible the pictures are, and stopped using her iPhone on vacation to take pictures. That’s something.