AirPods Max are amazing but I kind of hate them

I’ve had a pair of Apple’s AirPods Max for almost exactly one year. The headphones (please don’t call them “cans”. That’s unnecessary insider hoohah) look nice and sound very good, but I don’t enjoy using them. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and came up with the following list.

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reMarkable is sleeping

I’ve been using the reMarkable 2 tablet for almost three months now. I’m often asked what I think of it. The short answer is this:

I use the reMarkable tablet every day. I love writing on it, but it won’t be replacing my paper notebooks.

If you are thinking about getting one, I have no reservations recommending that you do. The hardware is very nice and the experience of writing on it is terrific. It’s not exactly like paper, but it does feel analog. It feels “real”, unlike using the iPad and Apple Pencil, which feels like writing on a computer screen.

Here are what I’ve been using it for:

  • Morning pages. I don’t write morning pages as a practice, but I often open a new page first thing in the morning and make marks on it.
  • Brainstorming. The reMarkable is great for sitting down, away from the computer, and thinking something through. Sketches, scribbles, and a few notes are a perfect use for the tablet.
  • Drafting blog posts. I’m drafting this very post using it.

A common thread here is that they’re all throw-away notes. I have not been using the reMarkable for things I’ll want to reference later. It’s great for raw materials to be used later in some other format, but less so for long-term notes. I find that it’s still too much trouble to quickly jump between notes on the reMarkable. Swiping from page to page is slow, and getting to an overview of a notebook’s pages requires tap, wait, tap, wait, tap, and wait. This makes paging around in a notebook rather cumbersome for certain things.

I use the reMarkable nearly every day, but only a little. It spends most of its time sleeping.

I keep a paper notebook open on my desk, not the reMarkable. The reMarkable wakes quickly at the touch of a button, but a paper notebook never sleeps.

I use paper for:

  • Personal journaling. Nothing beats paper and a nice fountain pen.
  • Tasks and quick notes. This is my lightweight version of bullet journaling.
  • Jotting things down. Phone numbers, names, anything I need to remember.

As great and convenient as digital tools like the reMarkable are, there is one thing about paper notebooks that I never want to live without, and that is the artifact itself. There is no substitute for a shelf lined with full notebooks. I can pick one up today, or in twenty years, and easily skim around in it. No digital format, as convenient as they may be, can replace that.

Tools and Toys

…skip any definitive conclusions, as we know you might change those at any time. ????

@ron on micro.blog

Ron was referring to my still-forming opinions about the reMarkable tablet, but he could be referring to any number of things. I have a reputation for frequently changing up my process/tools/systems/workflows/what-have-you. This reputation is not unfounded, but for some reason I feel the need to explain (defend?) myself.

Or perhaps it’s easier to describe what I’m not doing:

I am not looking for the perfect tool or system. I simply like to try new things.

Many people seem to assume that I’m wasting time constantly searching for some better, more-perfect solution. I don’t believe that’s it at all. I’m not wasting my time, I’m having fun!

Let’s look at note-taking and cameras as two good examples.

I don’t need any new note-taking tools. I don’t need a different process for taking notes. I don’t need to take “smarter” notes. Note-taking is a solved problem. If I want to write something down, I open a text file and write it down. Now, that could be done using Vim or BBEdit or Emacs or whatever. Doesn’t matter, as long as what I’ve written is in a text file and I can find it later if needed. This would be different if I was an academic or an author working on a novel, but I’m neither of those.

However, I’m fascinated by how other people do things and the tools they use. I love seeing how different tools solve different problems for different people. I love novelty. This is why I started using Vim in the early 2000s when BBEdit worked just fine. I’d heard so many people rave about modal editing with Vim that I had to try it. Turns out they were right. Modal editing has informed nearly every text-editing decision since I learned it. One can’t dig into Vim without also hearing about how great Emacs is. I tried and failed to get into Emacs a few times, but then Spacemacs came along and made it easy for Vim users to adapt. Then Doom replaced Spacemacs because it was simpler and faster. And one can’t use Emacs without running into Org mode. Then Roam showed up and made automatic backlinks a thing, and I loved that. I still do. In fact, I still enjoy using all of them: BBEdit, Roam, Vim, Emacs, Craft, Obsidian, Logseq, Mem, iA Writer, Ulysses, and on and on. Hell, I still use paper about half the time.

It’s the same with cameras. I want to experience them all; big, small, cheap, expensive, old, new…all of them. I have or have had some of the (objectively) “best” cameras ever made. (And no, the best camera is not the one you have with you if what you have with you is a shitty camera.) I don’t make photographs for a living, so it’s incorrect to describe a camera as “just a tool.” For me, cameras are toys! Sure, I look for the ones that work well with the way I like to take pictures, but they all have good and bad qualities. I like trying cameras with varying combinations of those qualities.

This all happens because I want to try the things I read about. If someone writes passionately about something they use, whether it be software, hardware, or process, I want to try it for myself.

But let’s be clear, I don’t need any of it beyond a basic text editor and, say, my iPhone.

All this stuff is like a giant toy box. And much like Andy in Toy Story, sometimes I find a new favorite toy. This means that old favorites get left in the box for a time. Then one day I re-discover an old favorite and out it comes. There need not be anything “definitive” about it.

Old friends

The Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH

I recently bought a used, 5-year-old Leica SL . I didn’t buy any new lenses at the time, as I wasn’t sure I’d even like the camera. Turns out I liked the camera very much, so I ordered a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 zoom. I figured the zoom would cover my bases but I also bought the Leica M-to-L adapter so I could use my Leica M lenses.

The M lenses work flawlessly on the SL, and are even easier to focus on it, given the super bright EVF and focus peaking. M lenses are wonderful, but they are manual focus only. I was using the Sigma zoom a lot and falling for the convenience of auto-focus. This got me thinking about prime lenses for the SL. I prefer primes in almost all cases and so the research began in earnest.

The Sigma zoom is fine, but I really wanted a Leica native SL lens. And I wanted a prime. But what focal length should I get? Since I can only afford one lens (by “afford” I mean sell off most of my other gear to pay for it), I opted for the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH . I can never decide which length I prefer, 50mm or 35mm, but I went with the 35 because I feel it’s just a tad more flexible.

I must admit that hearing Peter Karbe, Leica’s designer of the M and SL lens lines, say that the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm is his favorite Leica lens and that it might be the best lens Leica has ever made helped push me over the edge. You can listen to Peter go into glorious technical detail about the SL lenses for like an hour and a half in this video.

The lens arrived a few days ago and so far all I can say is that my first impressions are that it has easily exceeded my high expectations. It’s beautiful, and the construction and feel of it are just wonderful.

The SL lenses are significantly larger than the M lenses I’m used to. Here is a photo showing the size difference between the tiny, jewel-like Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH and this new 35mm f/2 SL

Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH vs the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 SL ASPH

A nice feature of the SL lenses is close focusing distance. The SL lenses are more useful close up. For example the SL can focus down to 27 cm while the Summicron-M can only get to within 70 cm. That matters a lot more often than one might think.

Getting closer with the SL

What about image quality? Good question. I don’t know much yet, as I’ve only been plinking around the house. What I do know is that the few images I’ve taken have looked fantastic. Most decent modern lenses make great images, but I have convinced myself that the files coming out of the SL with the APO-Summicron are somehow even better. To my eyes, they are noticably, meaningfully better, and that’s the only criteria I need.

Is the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ASPH worth $5,000? Of course not. No one needs a lens like this. I certainly don’t. I mostly take photos of my dog or selfies or family snapshots, so there’s no point trying to justify the cost other than to say that it might be the best lens I’ve ever used. It feels fantastic. It looks fantastic, and, combined with the SL, it makes fantastic images and I’m very happy with it.