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Memo to Apple boss Steve Jobs

Posted on 13 September 2009 | 5:09pm

Memo to SJ

From AC

re: earphones

Great to see you looking so well after your liver transplant, and well done on all the new products. Can’t say I understand them all, but judging by the fact you made the top trends on Twitter, even as you were speaking, it is clear the SJ magic is still going strong.

However, I was wondering when you would apply your considerable genius to the most pressing technological question I currently face – namely how to get my ipod earphones to stay in my ears when I’m out running. It’s all very well having all the whizzbangery in the machine itself, but if you can’t keep the earphones in, it is meaningless.

I have tried every type going, to no avail. I’ve taken to covering them with sellotape, but once the sweat is flowing, it all gets a bit sticky and messy.

Music matters to athletes, you know that. Look at all those footballers getting off the team bus with their earphones plugged in. And it matters more to slow long-distance runners than it does to the fast ones. It’s alright for Paula Ratcliffe, or Haile Gebreselassie. They can get a marathon done in not much more than two hours, but for mortals, you can be out there all day, and esepcially when training you need the psychological lift that only music can deliver.

I’m fine when I’m running steady and straight. But it is when I suddenly have to turn my head or body, or up my pace, that they keep popping out. Then I lose my temper and when my temper goes, so does my rhythm, and then I’ve had it.

Don’t turn your head or body then, I hear you say … but Steve, just as I’m sure you have passers-by shouting out to you when you’re out and about, urging you to get well, thanking you for all the amazing advances you have made in technology, I get the same thing, you know, taxi drivers winding down the window and yelling out ‘hey Alastair, when are we going to see that David Cameron shown up as the lightweight toff that he is?’ or strangers shouting across the road to thank me for helping TB to get rid of the Tories in the first place, not to mention all the people who want to express their gratitude for all the improvements in public services under Labour …  then there are all the thumbs up and shouts of ‘good luck to Burnley, mate.’ That’s my soccer team. You may have seen the big piece the New York Times did about them recently. I suppose for the sake of balance I ought to say I also get the odd funny look, and a bit of criticism, but you probably know about that too.

Anyway, I know you’re busy, but if you could put your mind to the earphone problem, I and lots of other runners would be really grateful.

Also, I know it is not really a technological issue, but any thoughts you have on bleeding nipples would be handy too. I mean, what is the point of the male nipple? You never hear of men wanting a nipple transplant, do you? I did just under two hours today, in training for the Great North Run next week, and as if my earphone-popouts weren’t bad enough, towards the end I was getting even more funny looks than I was getting shouts of support for New Labour would you believe, because I had two large red blobs on my white running top. Horrible. Messy. Worse than sweat and sellotape.

That’s all for now. Let me know how you go on. And good luck.

  • Steven Nash

    get some neckband headphones, great for running.

  • Catriona Smith

    Ooohhh! That sounds so sore!! Please do yourself a favour AC… After the Great North Run,sit down and give your body a break!!! What about trying something different like Tai Chi or Chi Gung, or is it just the competitive bit that you really like?? You never know, you might like it!! 😀
    By the way, good luck next week!

  • Gari MacColl

    Hi Alastair,
    I’m afraid the answer is to invest in a pair of earpod headphones such as Sony Fontopia. These pop in the ears like plugs and tend to stay the course.
    The sound quality is often better than the usual i-pod ones too.
    And the nipple issue can be addressed with a couple of corn plasters before running.

  • mhairi gordon

    Most enjoyable 🙂

    I have the opposite problem, tiny ears and struggle to get headphones in them without wedging and pain. We music-lovers have to suffer for art.

  • Ronald

    Get yourself a set of Bang Olufsen earphones. The ones that go around the back of the ear. This keeps them steady, but being B+O still stylish!

  • Mustafa Mitib

    As my in ear headphones decided to stop working, i have resorted back to the usual headphones you get with any ipod or iphone and they are the most uncomfortable things ever.

    Heres an idea for apple, if you can make headphones from some sort of material, that could be molded into your ear, when ever you put your headphones in. Something a bit like plasticine, but not actual plasticine.

    What do you think alastair?

  • @jlocke13

    …”all the people who want to express their gratitude for all the improvements in public services under Labour”.. …hahah I think you are mishearing….I remember helping to launch Sony Walkman in the UK and all the journalists said “you really think people will walk around in public wearing headphones?” well there is your answer… headphones instead of earplugs…

  • Jack_C

    I should see a doctor before too long. The problem you have is not with earphones falling out, but with the hallucinations you keep having about conversations with people. I would think what they’re actually saying is when will Gordon call an election so that we can vote for David Cameron, the strangers are probably yelling across the road that Blair is a war criminal and what were you thinking of by helping him in the first place, they’re wanting to know where all their money has gone from the billions thrown at public services with no tangible benefit to anybody. Sure, you’ll get the odd smile, and congratulation for your courage in making the programme about bi-polar disorder. The only thing that probably does happen is the “good luck to Burnley” bit. The British all love a plucky underdog.

  • Helene Pearson

    Alastair, I know you won’t anyway, but please don’t let the humour bypass brigade like Jack C deter you from the occasional piece of whimsy. I like your blog when it is serious, and I like the funstuff too. And if I saw you out jogging I would shout out thanks for the blogging and thanks for saying it like it is

  • vincent

    Hi Alastair,

    Can’t help with the headphones… but for the nipples, try to smear some vaseline on them before the run, that’s an old known trick, but it works a treat!

  • Art O\’Leary

    Try Bang & Olufsen earphones (with the bit that wraps around your ear)…..bought a pair last year – expensive, but you won’t have any problems with earphones popping out and the sound quality is top class…

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire



    After a dose of comment from Jack_C at 8pm, it must be reassuring to read that Helene Pearson at 9:30pm wants you to keep some whimsical funstuff to counter-balance the serious business. Otherwise, we all go to bed, miserable and cross

    Again, “nae worries, laddie” because once you go deaf in your dotage, such worrisome botherages as iPod earphones will have long since ceased to upset thee

    In fact, you’ll become “all ears” listening to even the silliest bugger who yells their bizarre point of view at you

    Instead, the Eckhart Tolle stillness, the golden silence will deafen you with its fragile beauty

    Too frail to peddle your bike in your old age, the opinions of what Mr Jeremy Paxman, 59, of Henley-on-Thames, recently accurately identified as “a nation of barbarians” will leave you indifferent – even if they don’t do already

    Moronic, uncultured, opinionated, thick and inarticulate, we’ve got The Whole Catastrophe, living in our very own UK streets, thank you

    Surely there’s hope in the NHS hospital round the corner, then? Well, after you’ve complained about your sweaty earphones during your appointment with the Senior Consultant Audiological Scientist (SCAS), you’ll witness his lips move, but your deafness won’t allow you to hear what the old codger is blathering about

    Still, at least you’ll be made to feel like ventriloquist Ray Allen’s, Lord Charles – the complete dummy

    London cabbies can call you all the names they like by then, the criticisms and funny looks you mention, hah. Majestic in your pomp, you can afford to laugh so heartily, your NHS dentures swoop the length of the waiting room and bite three NHS triage nurses in the neck, all at once, (a trick even Derren Brown hasn’t yet perfected)

    Gormless but proud, you can totter out, having outperformed the legendary Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, one trio in one go

    Time for home, then? Not yet, not quite, because I see you swear your bicycle rhythm disappears when your temper explodes

    Temper tantrums, too, I believe? Mmm, then you’d best potter out of the hospital ENT clinic towards NHS psychiatric outpatients

    Follow the big, red signposts – “Nutters This Way, please”

    There, expert specialists might check you for confrontational attitude, for challenging behaviour patterns. Then, you can even celebrate becoming a medically-diagnosed, unpredictable and disinhibited patient with complexity issues

    A touch “borderline” who fails to engage fully with the Art and the Science of NHS Psychiatry: But, nae worries agin, laddie – there’s millions in that same category, millions

    And we’re on an alarming increase

    Bless the pharmaceutical industry for coaching psychiatrists “how to remain guarded in their prognosis” – just dole out more pricey medication to patients and count the shoeboxes of profit that ensues

    Even pumping out more psycho-babble has failed to cure the frail and ailing, sadly

    Still, out of it all – if funding permits – you’re entitled to claim a Certificate of Attendance as conclusive proof you bothered to turn up for the daftest all-day “Anger Management” seminar ever presented. That’ll make you mad as hell

    Have fun, yelling loudly. You’ll not need your sweaty earphones, then

    Sounds to me like your awkward quandary is just the type of Audiology Dept “process problem” the NHS administration now thrives upon. Part of our beloved “English cultural heritage” – same as 1960s supermarkets, like Fine Fare and Victor Value

    Same as black phones made out of bakelite and dear old British Rail, prior to Chairman, Dr Richard “The Axe” Beeching’s savage cutbacks. Something antiquated and so unwieldly to manage, that you can’t help but love such a benign mess unconditionally

    Trevor Malcolm



  • Chris

    Second two of these, Alastair – get some Sony Fontopia, and stop talking to imaginary people.

    For the runner’s nipple though, I’d get a rashie or a baselayer shirt – like a Canterbury IonX (mine) or UnderArmour. The problem is sweat + chafing. A wicking compression top will stop it, and has other training advantages.

  • Simon

    For a few years now, I’ve used those earphones which hook round your ears; I tend to find they stay rock-steady no matter how much of a nodder / shaker you are. I usually go for the cheapest ones Argos have in stock at the time; but I think my current ones are Tesco own brand, under a fiver. I don’t see much point spending big money on them, given the punishment they’re inevitably going to take.

    I’ve bought two iPods in my life; and have never yet used the headphones which came with them. For anything. Ever.

  • Matt

    Alastair, You appear to have completely lost the plot. I ‘got’ it up to the nipple issue, but then all kinds of horrible visions popped into my head and I couldn’t stomach reading anymore.
    You obviously need more to do – I hear that there is one leader not that far away who could do with your considerable help and guidance. When he is ranting and raving and throwing phones and computers at the wall, you could just put your earphones in and start typing away. I bet they don’t fall out when you type.