Stuff & Things

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.

Year Of Less Update #7

It’s time for me to admit defeat.

Not in a “I failed, I give up” way, but in a “I went about this all wrong and set my self up to fail, but I learned a lot and have a better idea for a second try already” way.

The simple reason is that I just made too many rules.

Not that it was too many rules to keep track of, I tried to keep them simple enough from the start, but aiming to do something every single day, especially when you have a rather hectic schedule to begin with is difficult. So I often found myself gaming my own rules – not because I wanted to get away with something, but rather because I was running late or I’d forgotten and was just trying to do things to cross them off the list. At 11:15 PM I’d be digging through my t-shirt drawer to find one I could quickly throw out so that I could say I got rid of something that day. Which of course was disappointing, so I’d make new rules to compensate and the whole things kept getting more difficult. Add travel and everything else to the mix and I should have known there was no way this was going to work out as planned.

Year Of Less Update #6

My last Year of Less update was on Feb 1st, and since we’re firmly into April at this point I feel like I owe everyone an update. People keep asking, hows the year of less going? I’ve been answering with “it’s going!” which is dodging the question a little bit without getting too specific. As this is an official update I don’t really get to dodge anything, and as much as I’d like to say that everything has been working perfectly, that’s not the case. 3 months down and I can very honestly say I was overzealous on what I thought I could pull off. That isn’t to say it’s a failure or that I’ve stopped – far from it, but my regime of daily requirements turned out to be not very realistic. But that’s still fairly general, so let’s look at each of the 3 pillars of this damn thing.

My Travel Coffee Setup, 2012 edition

A few years ago I wrote about my quest for the perfect travel coffee setup. I travel a lot, I like good coffee, so ensuring that I can have good coffee when I travel is kind of important. Since then I’ve been pretty much sticking to that same set up – Kitchen scale, Porelex grinder, V60, Kettle… It’s served me well but it’s not small and that’s always bugged me as I like to travel as light and compact as possible. I’ve messed with some minor variations (collapsing fake V60, etc) to no avail. For 2012 I decided to throw caution to the wind and start from scratch.

People keep raving about the AeroPress – especially in travel situations. I’ve resisted because frankly the shitty to delicious ratio for cups of coffee I’ve had from this device leans heavily on the shitty side. But I decided to give it a shot. If there’s any way I’m going to force myself to figure it out, it’s in a hotel room on the otherside of the world at 3am when Jetlag is making me surely.

Moving to the AeroPress means the slow pour kettle is no longer needed, which is actually the biggest motivator here for me as that’s the most obnoxious thing to try and fit in a suitcase.

Scale wise I switched the the larger countertop model I had to a higher end pocket sized guy that a friend gave me a while back but I hadn’t made much use of.

I’m sticking with the Porlex Hand Grinder because it’s really the best option out there for a hand grinder. I’ve tried everything, trust me, this is the one to get. However, since it’s *exactly* the right size to fit inside the AeroPress, and I can grind right into it I went ahead and pulled off the bottom part where grinds are usually collected.

I also have one of those wacky metal AeroPress filters so that I don’t need to worry about paper ones, but honestly I might not be able to put up with the silt so I’m bringing a couple paper ones just in case.

As you can see, all compacted that’s a pretty small load. Actually the bag of coffee beans I’ll be bringing takes up more space in my bag. At least those get used and don’t have to be brought home.

I’m heading off to Japan tomorrow and will give this a test drive over the next week. I’m excited about trying something new, really excited about how much smaller this set up is, but a bit nervous that the AeroPress will turn my delicious beans into crap. Fingers crossed.