Stuff & Things

Experiments in Notebooking

In efforts to deal with old age forgetfulness and a lingering case of screen aversion I’ve been trying to get in the habit of using my physical notebook. I wrote about this a bit before on my mailing list, moving from a small pocket sized moleskine to a larger journal type thing and using a modified bullet journal method for daily planning and notes and general keeping on top of things. I also like that, even though it’s purely functional for me, I feel like I’m making something.

While I’ve been enjoying the pen and paper aspect of using a pen and paper I’ve also found myself wanting a little more of a creative visual experience but I’m not fetishistic enough about this journal thing to spend endless hours doodling and and drawing on the pages like a damn pinterest board. A little while ago Warren (I think) mentioned getting one of these little pocket printers that allowed him to quickly snap a photo of something interesting and print it out and then slap it in his notebook for future reference. This notion has kind of stuck with me and last week I decided to pull the trigger. Twice actually.

I ordered and received two different mini printers, that function a bit differently with different desired outcomes. This is what I got:

Paperang
This is a super tiny thermal printer (which means it never needs ink), b&w only with questionable archival qualities (the basic paper is guaranteed to keep an image for a full year) but it’s fast and cheap and fun. While I got in with the intent to print little photos, the Paperang app also has a number of text and todo list templates and options that I can see myself playing with sometime in the not terribly distant future. I’ve been scotch taping a few quick prints with the default paper in to the notebook here and there and it’s added a very cool new layer to the look and feel of it. I also ordered some upgraded paper spools of sticker backed paper that is supposed to hold an image for 10 years so I won’t have to tape the prints in each time. Knowing that the image will eventually fade is interesting too because it keeps me from thinking anything is too precious, and also forces me to write a little something next to it explaining what it is.

Instax print from the SHARE, photo taken on a Leica M10D

Instax SHARE
It’s no secret I like instant photos and that I have a softspot for Instax. I’ve got a few Instax cameras in various formats (I especially like the Instax WIDE monochrome film, though the camera for it is huge) but this requires planning ahead and carrying the camera around, and the film is kind of expensive for quick memory jogging notes to self. That said, being able to take any photo that I have on my phone and make a Polaroid style print anytime I want is kind of appealing. Between my regular carry around every day camera (currently a Leica M10D) and my iPhone (currently an XSMax) I have some pretty nice digital photos. So I picked up the new SP-3 which uses the Instax SQUARE film as I like that format (though I wish they offered a monochrome version) and have used to make a few prints of things I shot with these other devices. This is nice if I want to give a photo to someone, or include something I know will more long lasting (and thus, more thoughtful and artistic I guess). This also allows me to play more with this format, I really liked the Instax MINI print series Clayton did a few years ago and being able to physically riff on ideas is kind of fun.

Both of these printers are small enough to carry around in a hip/shoulder bag without much trouble and then always be available, though the SHARE is a bit bigger and heavier than the Paperang so in actual practice I don’t know how often I’ll really carry both around. Likely one or the other. Guess we’ll see. In the meantime I’m happy with the ability to hold in my hands something that was only in my head previously.

Personal Uniform Update 2019

I’ve been writing about personal uniforms for a long time now [2015, 2010] and adhering to them for even longer.  While the major themes have remained the same over the years some of the specifics have gotten more specific and as I’m often asked for recommendations I find it useful to take stock once and a while so I have something for people to reference. The last time I did this I was living in Los Angeles, and traveling 100k+ miles a year, today I’m living in Tokyo and still traveling 100k+ miles a year. Tokyo gets colder than Los Angeles and has snow, but it also gets more humid. I previously tried to have things that worked in all weather, but I’m now more a fan of fabrics and cuts that are optimized for seasons.

Generally I still stick to all black or dark grey and avoid anything with logos or visible branding of any kind.

The specifics:

T-Shirt

  • Basic. 100% Cotton. I’m still a fan of American Apparel’s Fine Jersey which I find to be the perfect cut, thickness and softness. These were the only things I wore for years and I’d buy them a dozen at a time every 12-18 months though honestly they hold up much longer than that and at less than $10 on Amazon it’s effortless. This is my goto shirt for training at the dojo because I know it’s strong enough to hold up under abuse and I’m not worried about ruining them. Cotton rules for structure, but it’s less optimal for most other things.
  • Hot weather: 100% Bamboo. The best ones I’ve found are made by Onno and are almost 3x the cost of the AA Cotton shirts at about $30. Bamboo is the perfect material for t-shirts, it wicks moisture away from you and is soft and anti-bacterial.
  • Humid: 100% Ramie. A recent find for me, Ramie is a really interesting natural fiber and in Tokyo’s super humid summers this has become my goto option. Outlier’s Ramielust shirt is the best shirt for hot and humid weather. It’s $125, but it takes one day if walking around in 90% humidity to understand why. I found some cheaper Ramie blend shirts on amazon but they don’t feel the same. As a fabric it’s a bit stiffer than Cotton or Bamboo, but it’s also light and airy like nothing else.
  • Cool: 100% Wool. This is going to be my most controversial recommendation ever but Outlier’s Gostwyck Single Origin Wool is really interesting. Wool is an amazing fabric, but it’s almost always ethically bad news, so a company working with a single farm with the specific intention of creating ethically produced wool is something I thought was worth supporting and looking further into. I know some people love wool and if they are going to buy it I’d prefer they put the money towards a more sustainable and ethical option like this. These shirts are also $125, but they might be the nicest shirts you’ve ever touched. A secret some people don’t know is that Wool shirts can be worn for several days in a row before they need washing, so you need fewer of them  for a wardrobe and end up doing wash less often, so they have other environmental benefits to weigh out.

Pants

  • Slacks. I find the materials that Outlier are using for their Slim Dungarees and Futureworks pants to be fantastic, versatile, lightweight and durable. I was initially hesitant to buy $200 pants, but I now have 3 pairs and easily wear them 300 days out of the year. Their shorts are equally fantastic.
  • Jeans. I have an ongoing love/hate with denim that I continue to be unable to resolve. There was a point in the late 2000’s when I realized that not only did I not own a pair of jeans, I hadn’t owned a pair in over a decade, as I’d been wearing almost exclusively Dickies for most of that time. At the same time I had friends working with and lusting over “high end” denim and I wanted to understand it. I’ve since owned and worn many varieties of denim and from high end Japanese brands like Iron Heart & Sugar Cane. They’ve been great in some ways, and horrible in other ways and spending hundreds of dollars on pants that you know the crotch and pockets are going to blow out in, and require additional cost to keep repairing just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me these days. And while there are some minor details here and there, I don’t find them to justify the 5x or 10x cost over something like Shrink To Fit Levi’s 501s or something similar. In the end, I’m going to skip a recommendation on this one and just say individual preference is going to win out.

Socks

  • Darn Tough. Seriously, regardless of what style you like Darn Tough socks will be the best you can get. In addition to being super comfortable and rock solid, they have a life time guarantee so if you somehow find a way to wear a hole in them they will replace them free of charge. Forever. I don’t know how they do it, but they do and do it well.

Underwear

  • Update: I used to religiously recommend ExOfficio Boxer Briefs for many reasons but no longer do, a few years ago the company changed manufacturing practices and both their fabric and build quality went downhill significantly, when I first found them they were upwards of $30 each but now seem to be sub $20 and I’m quite sure they are making more money on each one due to the corners they cut. Avoid.
  • Warmer weather: Bamboo. $30 for a 4 pack of David Archy bamboo boxer briefs seemed too good to be true, but turns out it to be legit. Endorsed.
  • Cooler weather: Wool. Specifically Smartwool who are also publicly committed to ethical and sustainable wool production. They also have a lifetime guarantee which given their $45 price tag, being able to return them once they get worn out for new ones is a bonus.

Shoes and Jackets are much more personal and I can’t imagine recommendations here being worth anything. So look for the styles and cuts that you like and run with them I guess. Though I will say a good hoodie and a good windbreaker are an awesome combo.

What’s Your Bag

I really hate carrying anything so if I have to carry things, which I often do, I want to carry them in the most efficient and minimal way I can, and do that with some style. I used to always be hunting for “the perfect bag” thinking I could find something that would work for all occasions but I now know that simply doesn’t exist, and different problems require different solutions. Because of that, I obsess a bit about bags which is annoying for me, but perhaps beneficial for you.

2019 Bags
[L to R: Integer, Spar, Shank]

Beyond size the major issues I consider are:

  • Build quality – Is it going to fall apart after using it every day for 6 months?
  • Weather resistance – Is my stuff going to get ruined if it starts raining while I’m out?
  • Usability – Do I need to think about how to get to my stuff, or is it intuitive?
  • Lifetime guarantee  – If there is a problem, will the company stand behind their product?

So, this is what I’m using to carry things around these days, sorted from small to large:

Chrome Industries Cardiel Shank – If I need more than I can carry in my pockets, this is my go to. In the 80’s this would have been called a hipsack, a fannypack or any number of other pejoratives. While the style was questionable then the logic was sound, and in the decades sense the style has course corrected. I tend to wear this across one shoulder so I can swing it on to the front for easy access or to the back to disappear. It’s subtle, but large enough to hold my iPad Mini, field notes and/or a moleskine notebook, a Leica M body or other compact camera, a bag of coffee, some extra film or even a compressed micro-puff jacket, should I anticipate needing such a thing. This is too small for a laptop, but that’s exactly why I like it. A Chrome Industries messenger bag was my daily carry for much of the early 2000’s and their products have always been bombproof.

Mission Workshop Spar – If I need to a laptop but not much else, I reach for the Spar. This is basically a laptop sleeve with a tiny extra pocket for cables, and several ways to get into the main compartment. This is so thin it will fit unnoticed under a jacket if that is required, and the sling strap adjusts incredibly well. I moved away mostly from one-shoulder kind of bags because I find they hurt my back after carrying them all day, so I bought the add on backpack harness, but I actually find the one shoulder strap to be more comfortable.

(A brief note about Mission Workshop, the company was founded by the ex-Chrome team when they sold the company and they put everything they learned then into practice here. When I switched from messenger to backpack style bags, I bought their  Fraction rucksack and over the following decade if became the best bag I’d ever had in my life, hands down. When it eventually wore out, MW took it back and offered to replace it 1:1 with  new one, or give me that amount as credit towards something else. Very solid policy.)

Mission Workshop Integer – I actually bought the previous version of this called the Rhake the moment it was released and loved it in every possible way. My only complaint was that if I put my camera into it, I didn’t tend to take it out because there was just too many steps involved. That only matters because of the kind of photography I do, where I need my camera quickly and also want it out of the way just as quick. When they announced the Integer, which seemed like the Rhake with an additional side opening to quickly grab a camera I was all over it.

In practice the Integer is actually a bit larger than the Rhake. While the Rhake has a very slim profile, the Integer sticks out from your back a bit more which can be an issue in crowds or when trying to jam it under a plane seat, but pulling out the built in foam padding that makes up the camera compartment helps with that a bit but I do find myself wishing it was a bit flatter.

Original Rimowa Cabin – The above covers 90% of my “carrying stuff” needs, but I’d be remiss not to discuss travel as I’ve done in the past. The Integer is actually large enough to hold what I need for several days, but if I have extra gear or am going around the world for more than 5 or 6 days then I’m bringing a suitcase and there is nothing better than Rimowa. I’ve discussed this before but I used to go through $150-200 bags every year, they’d drop a wheel, have a zipper failure, or something else which added unexpected and sometimes nightmarish issues to my trip. I kept hearing about Rimowa and eventually caved in and threw down the big bucks for one and it’s the best suitcase I’ve ever had. More than a decade later it still looks and works like brand new, and I never worry about it breaking mid trip. I few years back I was gifted the aluminum version of the composite model that I had, and immediately passed the composite one down to my son who I’m certain could use it for the rest of his life without ever needing to replace it. The pricetag seems high, but with a literal lifetime lifespan, it very quickly becomes cheaper than buying a new bag every few years. For anyone with a regular travel schedule, you’d be crazy not get one. Inside I use a set of Eagle Creek packing bags to compress and keep laundry and toiletries separate, and those work just as well in any of the other bags if I use them instead.

That’s what I’m carrying when I want to carry stuff. Hope this was helpful and useful, let me know if further travel/carry/gear kind of posts are interesting for you and I’ll see what I can whip together.

Travel Kit

Professor Ellis requested an update to my current travel kit and I happen to have it all laying around since I just got back to town so that seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. It should be unsurprising to anyone reading this who didn’t get here by accident that I try really hard to maximize usage and minimalize parts so that I have a simple set up that works no matter what or where I’m going – though admittedly I’m always fine tuning it. Let’s start with bags.

I have 3 bags – I never take more than 2 of them.

  1. A no-brand thick canvas shoulder bag that is purposely too small to fit my laptop.
  2. A Mission Workshop Sanction backpack
  3. A Rimowa Cabin Tolley rollerboard suitcase.

If I’m going somewhere for under 48 hours then I take the backpack only, more than that I go with the shoulder bag and suitcase. In some situations I’ll shake that up – for instance if I know it’s raining where I’m heading or if I expect that I’ll be walking a lot and needing to bring stuff with me on those walk then the backpack comes and the shoulder bag might even be shoved inside it. The driving bit behind this is that I want the very least amount of stuff with me as possible in the seat on the plane, so the small shoulder bag is typically what I shove under the seat in front of me and everything else goes in the over head. Which might as well lead us to what I keep in that shoulder bag:

And that’s pretty much it. Again, in a specific situation I might add or swap something in there but that’s typically what I default to.

I have a few other things I keep in the suitcase and then pull out once I arrive places for on the go working and using. Almost all of these things are contained in one of these small zipper pouches and held together with these gear ties.

Various short cords – Nothing longer than 6 inches, preferably under 2 inches. There are several brands that make cords like this in all the usuals: USB, Lightning, Mini and Nano USB etc. I have several brands all mixed together and I’m fairly impartial to which. In some cases I couldn’t find a short cord so I busted out scissors and a soldering iron and cut a cord down to size and then put it back together. At home, at a desk, a cord with some length can be helpful – on the road it just gets in the way. I’m never connecting something that isn’t right next to it, so no need for any extra cabling.

My main computer is the newest 11″ MacBook Air. I have one of the cheaper chromebooks at home but everytime I attempt to use it I get frustrated and then it sits unused for a few months. In rare occasions I’ll take the laptop into a plane seat with me, but generally I leave it in my suitcase and rely on the iPad for in flight. Especially after leaving my laptop in the seatback pocket on a flight to Hawaii last year.

For travel coffee I still rely on my trusty Porlex JP-30 Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder. If you subscribe to my Quarterly box I just sent you one of these. Pair that with a plastic Hario 02 Coffee Dripper (I keep the ceramic version at home) and you have an awesome set up for in hotel room coffee.

The Thrill Of The Hunt

I gave a new Ignite talk the other day at an icebreaker opening to a several day conference. The organizers asked for talks about the most exciting thing people had learned this year. Since I’ve been getting into vinyl jazz records recently I wrote back and asked if that might be a worthwhile talk – turned out it was and so I got to work. In thinking about these records and what drew me to them I started seeing a pattern emerge and I’m once again forced to admit that I’m a collector. I collect stuff. But this is conflicting because as the same time I really hate stuff. It piles up around and makes me feel cluttered and I want to just get rid of it all and then I do and everything is clean and nice and then I think “oh, it might be nice to put something in that space” and then it all starts all over again. But why?

It’s the thrill of the hunt. I’m not excited primarily about the stuff, I’m exciting about learning about it and tracking it down. Once it’s tracked down the thrill is gone and my attention finds itself pointing in other directions. So what is the special sauce that – for me at least – makes something thrilling and sucks me into collecting it? Once I identify a “thing” there are 4 qualities that make it irresistible.

1. LEARNABLE – The info about the thing has to be finite. That is, it can’t be continually expanding which usually means the thing has to be old and out of production. I need to be able to wrap my head around what the thing is, when it was made, for how long, what were the variations and issues involved with it’s production, how to know the early or rare stuff, etc. There has to be a complete cannon of information that I can digest. If it’s something too vast – like wine or something – then I’m instantly turned off because I know I can’t ever hope to know it all.

2. ATTAINABLE – Is it actually feasible that I could attain this thing that I’m considering collecting? This is mostly financial. I’m not going to collect Ferraris, I’m not going to collect Patek Philippe. I’m never going to even own one of those things so there’s no risk of collecting it, and thus no chance of getting infatuated with it. If the top tier collectable of this thing is in the lower 4 digits that seems much more likely to spark my interest, though upper 2 digits/lower 3 digits is much more comfortable.

3. COMPLETABLE – This is more about the thing, did they make enough of them that I can actually hope to find them? If something was produced in such limited numbers that there’s slim chance of me finding one, not to mention a bunch of them, then no chance I’ll fall into collecting it. More likely if they turn up on ebay from time to time, so not thinking about the money part, it has to actually be possible for me to find this thing. If it is, and it’s a bit of a challenge, that’s thrilling.

4. NICHE AS FUCK – This sounds hipster, like I’m saying it’s not cool if anyone else likes it, but that’s not the case. It’s more that if something is common enough that I see it when I go to everyone’s house, or if it’s produced in a “collectors edition” specifically aimed at collectors, then it’s just not exciting. If I’m really honest with myself, the fewer people who know about it the better, it’s possible to become a recognized authority on something that very few people know anything about. And before you know it, that’s infatuation.

Before I realized it the talk wasn’t so much about Jazz records as it was self psychoanalysis, but I ran with it anyway and of course I didn’t skip the jazz stuff, but out of 20 slides 13 of them were about what’s going on inside my head. After the talk lots of people came up to me saying I perfectly identified the crazy in their head too and they appreciated how much they could relate. Which was nice to hear, and so I thought I’d post those points online as well for others to find and mull over too.

What’s In My Bag (travel edition)

Sean Diptych

After my talk at Mailchimp the other day, Jason Travis approached me and asked if I’d be willing to be a part of his ongoing series of portraits and “what’s in your bag” photos he’s been doing. I thought it sounded like fun and, since I wasn’t expecting to do it, I didn’t overthink what I should have in my bag at that point. It was literally what I had with me for that trip, just off the plane, giving a talk, heading back the next day. I really like it, and it’s funny how years of style, color, theme choices all work together.

OK, so what is all this stuff??
(I’m including links of where to buy when possible to avoid a slew of “where do I get…?” – If there’s no link I forgot or can’t find it online anymore)

Friends will note that the glaring omission is any kind of knife, and I’ll point out again I’d just gotten off a plane. Also, my laptop was hooked up to a projector and I’d forgotten to grab it for this.

 

Seeing the light

The rule of thumb for tools & stuff you carry around everyday is “two is one and one is none” which basically means you lose things, batteries die, stuff breaks at the wrong moment, etc and if you only have one of something and you need it in a pinch and something goes wrong you are out of luck, having two always gives you a back up plan. I’ve been a fan of this rule for a number of things, not the least of which is flashlights. People who don’t carry flashlights can’t understand why you need even one, but once you get used to how handy they are you can’t imagine not having one within arms reach at all times. For my purposes I’ve settled on the CR123 + AAA combo. That is, a super bright yet compact and pocketable primary light driven by a CR123 battery, and a smaller yet capable AAA light on my keychain. It’s a set up that works great for me. Some people opt for two lights that use the same battery size or something but I tend to think if you are going to have two they should be different enough to justify themselves. But anyway.

I’ve had an original Arc AAA light on my keychain for over 6 years which I bought after doing a ton of research. That thing is SOLID and it’s served me really well – still works perfectly. Unfortunately the other day I noticed that the keychain hole had almost worn all the way through. I had a titanium split ring in there which might have caused the problem, titanium being stronger than the aluminum the light is made out of and all. I don’t think it’s a problem with the light and blame it much more on my own heavy use. In fact, because I like the light so much I’m not ready to just trash it and may make a weekend project out of coming up with a new way to attach a hook. But in the meantime, I need a new light for my keychain.

Perhaps I’m feeling a little saucy at the moment, but I felt like going way out to left field and abandoning the traditional tacti-cool aircraft aluminum or titanium as a material and trying something new. I’ve been into copper recently – we have some copper cups at home and I got a copper pen that I’ve been enjoying, so when I saw that County Comm had an all copper version of their Maratac AAA I was in. That light regularly gets great reviews on the nerdy flashlight geek websites  and at under $50 I didn’t even really have to think about it.

AAA

Being a pure element, copper has some unique properties and should tarnish quite interestingly after carrying it for a while. My first impression after getting it is that the little wire used to create the keychain loop may be a problem, but only time will tell. It has 2 brightness levels instead of the on/off that the arc had, and is considerably brighter in the higher setting, though that comes at the cost of shorter battery life.

Since apparently I’m susceptible to suggestion or easily marketed to when I’m in the buying mood, seeing that they just released an all copper CR123 as well, also for under $50, I gave in and got it. Maybe I’m just a sucker for matching stuff. I have these crazy conversations with myself where I try to justify this completely ridiculous behavior – where I blatantly know I’m trying to fool myself or make myself feel better about doing something I shouldn’t be doing, and then I do it anyway. I’m all “Dear Sean, this shit is going to happen wether you like it or not so you better come up with a way to be OK with it. Love, Sean.”

I have the U1 version of the Sunwayman V10r which is no slouch of a light. Solid titanium, a cool magnetic brightness control and compact as crap. I’ve had it for about 5 years and it’s still a fantastic light. So I have no good reason to replace it at all. Except, you know, this other one is copper. And I suck.

cr123

The Maratec is smaller, but it’s heavier because copper outweighs titanium by a lot. And the Maratec has 3 modes – low/med/high where as the magnetic swivel ring on the Sunwayman is basically endless brightness control, however I think the Maratec tops out a bit brighter because it’s all new tech, were as the Sunwayman is fairly obsolete all these years later. The CR123 size light is where manufacturers really flex the new electronics, new LEDs, new reflectors and stuff so generally any higher end new CR123 light is going to beat the pants off one just a few years older. So I’ll carry the Maratec for a while and see how it goes.

But for under $100 I got two brand new flashlights that that should last many, many years to come – not bad.

One ____ to rule them all

With the exception of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll I’m a firm believer that less is more. Well maybe not so much the drugs since I don’t touch that stuff, but you get the idea. And if you’ve been following my writings for a while that shouldn’t be a revelation. Having lots of something makes you choose between them. It adds a extra layer of decision making to the decision you are making and forces you to think about something other than your main goal.

Example: You need to wear pants, so you decide to put some on. But then you have to decide *which* pants to put on. These ones or those ones. Oh the ones you want are dirty. Shit. Those ones might work but will they match your shoes? It’s a big headache. And now you still don’t have pants on because you are all worked up trying t decide which pants to wear. You created a new problem for yourself while trying to solve a simple one. If instead of having 10 different pairs of pants that you have to decide on you just had 10 pair of the same pants, you wouldn’t even think about this. Just grab one and go.

That might be extreme for some people, but there’s an argument to be made for having the one version of something that you know works, is made well, and will last you forever rather than lots of more specialized versions that only work for some things which constantly force you to make decisions. Another example – if you are a photographer and you have one camera and one lens then the only thing you think about is the photos you are taking. If you have several cameras and several lenses then you are constantly assessing your decision of which gear to use and if you should change lenses for this shot, etc. Simplicity lets you focus on the main issue at hand. (Side note: I brought 2 cameras and 4 lenses on a trip I’m on right now and realized this mistake almost instantly – upside is I think I know what I’m getting rid of when I get back)

This is why I was completely excited to find The Ones which is a site by some designers focusing on “the one” tool (or item) they’ve chosen to do the job for them. I really enjoyed reading their thoughts and rational behind each item. In a way it’s sort of the inverse of what I was doing with year of less, where I was documenting items I was getting rid of because I wanted to simplify. The Ones focuses on what they kept (or what they chose in the first place, if they chose wisely). Reading it immediately gave me more ideas of places I could pair down. For instance, when Tara and I got married we combined most of our kitchen stuff resulting in us having 7-8 kitchen knives of various sizes. We use one all the time and the others just sit on the rack. I hadn’t even thought about that until reading on The Ones about the one kitchen knife they have and use. Brilliant.

Another thing, my tool box. So much in there I’ve never touched. I need to weed out the cruft.

Travel helps with this a lot too. What do you pack and what do you leave behind. If you left it behind, that probably says something. If you can’t imagine going out without it, that says something too. I like forcing myself to constantly evaluate the stuff I choose to surround myself with. If you pick just one thing that can do the job well, and is beautifully designed, then you’ll appreciate it more and pay more attention to what you want to do, rather than what you are doing it with.