Stuff & Things

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.

Year Of Less update #5: 1 month down

Today is February 1st so I’ve been doing this Year of Less project for a full month now and I’m really really really really enjoying it. I haven’t been doing it long enough for major impact on my life, but I’ve certainly forced a lot of thought and conscious editing of things. I thought I’d give a quick update on that. Numbers wise I’ve gotten rid of 98 things. In 31 days, so I actually think the “how much did you get rid of” part of this is becoming the least interesting. I’ll get rid of a lot of stuff, and that goes without saying now I think.

But what am I getting rid of?

That’s more interesting.

Especially when I have a goal to get rid of one thing a day, and it’s been a super busy day and all the sudden at 10PM I realize I haven’t gotten rid of anything. Which has happened. And then I scramble and find something I have no use for and I can’t believe I’ve been holding onto for some dumb amount of time. When I look at the doc I’ve been keeping, there’s days when I got rid of 5 things, 10 things, 25 things… those are the days when I was actively working on it and are expected. But the days I only got rid of one thing are the days when I probably scrambled a bit. So what are some of those things?

– A remote control to a broken roomba that I threw out months ago.
– A stack of membership cards to airport lounges that expired years ago.
– A keychain flash light that hasn’t worked in a year but I had been keeping in my dresser thinking I could fix it some day.
– A battery charger for something I don’t even know what it could be.
– Box for an iPhone 3Gs. Just the box. What?!
– The charger for the FitBit I lost a year ago.
– Old eyeglasses with out of date prescription and broken frames

This list goes on and on. All of this is obviously junk, but it’s junk I’ve had for over a year in most cases. Junk I haven’t used in over a year in most cases. And since I moved within the last year, it’s junk I packed up and moved with me in most cases. What the hell was I thinking? Forcing myself to find these things and get rid of them is pretty great.

I’ve also noticed how often I’m resisting the impulse to “1 click buy” things on amazon or whatever. I see something cool a friend has, I look it up online and before I realize it I’m staring at it on Amazon. Last year I would have impulse bought the hell out of that stuff. I did impulse buy the hell out of it. Now I’m catching myself, and at the moment I’m bummed, because I have this mental desire to buy stuff. Which is insane, because it’s something I didn’t know existed minuted earlier, and all the sudden I have this feeling that my life won’t be complete without it. But the next day I’m PSYCHED that I stuck to my guns and didn’t buy something I really didn’t need.

Which is really the reason I’m doing this. So that’s pretty awesome. Month 2, here we go!