Mint.com feature suggestion

I was using Mint.com again today, as I decided that even thought it renames all of my electronically-paid bills to ‘BP’ there would still be some value in using it. The spending that really needs monitoring isn’t usually paid electronically, so the rest of the transactions that Mint.com doesn’t mostly misname are still intact.

Mostly.

Today I found out that handwritten checks get renamed to ‘View Image’. This is because the description that my credit union provides includes the phrase ‘View Image’, which is a link to the image of the check when I’m on the CU site. Mint.com decided to throw away the check number, which is the only piece of identifying information you usually get on handwritten checks.

So after nosing around on the Mint.com support forums I found specific instructions for filing a bug request when Mint.com misnames transactions, I decided to start filing bug requests for all these misnamed transactions.

Feature Suggestion

Mint.com, please add a ‘Report misnamed transaction’ button on your transaction view. Maybe to the edit details pane. Since you already have the transaction date, my account ID info, the name that Mint gave the transaction as well as the original statement text, it would save me from having to re-type all that info when filing a bug request.

Audiophile-quality micro system

One of the things I find I enjoy more and more as I get older is music. I never listened that much when I was younger, but now I find it’s a great escape. I discovered the bliss of in-ear monitors back in ’99 when I was traveling a LOT for work, and was using music to deal with the occasional bout of homesickness. My Etymotic ER4-S ‘phones were awesome even if they required an amplifier to get the best sound. It was ok – with a Creative Labs Jukebox, my HeadRoom amp and the Ety’s I was a happy camper.

Later on I got an iPod and later still I moved up to the Sure SE530 phones and no longer needed the amp. The sound & fit are stellar but with small children around the house wearing headphones that block a lot of sound isn’t a very good idea. A frustrated “help me!” call or crying child going unheard is not a good thing. Other than for running, headphones that don’t block sound just don’t make sense to me – if I’m going to hear background noise why not use speakers?

So I was trying to figure out how to put together a small, inexpensive, but nice sounding speaker system for the office and/or shop. I’ve got some old stereo equipment, but it’s a gigantic JVC multimedia receiver – about 18” deep. Not easy to find a home for. I also didn’t need the gazillion watts the old stereo was capable of. Heck, I probably wouldn’t need more than 5.

I thought about getting one of the iPod dock-plus-speakers appliances that a lot of folks are selling, but I don’t need portability and I wanted better sound quality and speaker placement.

After some thought and some reading I figured out that all I really needed was a dock for my iPod, a small amp, and some speakers. I have a set of old JBL 2500 book shelf speakers, and while not great they work for now. The dock was a small purchase at the Apple store. That left the amp.

I looked around a bit and after finding the Sonic Impact t-amp was getting rave reviews from audiophiles I got very interested – the thing is only $30 after all. Turns out that Sonic Impact developed a very cheap amp using a chip made originally for products like big-screen TVs. It is a special kind of amplifier circuit that’s very efficient and produces very little heat. The result is a small, inexpensive amp that has very good audio quality if not a lot of power – something like 10 watts per channel max, with about 6 being the limit for really good sound quality.

Unfortunately Sonic Impact realized the demand and improved the amp and raised the price. Others joined the fray with similar but better designs and the “Class T” audio amplifier market was born. There’s several models out there, and a few companies that offer kits. I think I will ultimately build on of the 41hz kits, but in the mean time I decided on the Trends Audio TA-10.1, which I bought from AudioMagus.com. The Trends is about twice the price of the latest version of the Sonic Impact amp, but it gets better reviews and the build quality (it’s in a metal case with high-quality connectors) was much better.

It’s pretty tiny and has only an LED and a knob on the front. It’s just a simple amp with 1 input and outputs for pair of speakers. Perfect.

So I have an iPod sitting in the dock, the dock connected to the amp which has its volume turned to max. I use the remote for the iPod to change volume, advance tracks, etc. The remote is small and simple and easy to replace if needed.

The sound is excellent at low volume and still pretty good with everything turned up. Something mentioned in every review of the amp was that speakers less efficient than 90db@1 watt would be disappointing and the JBLs are at ~86 so I will probably be replacing them soon. Still, for a system that takes up about as much space as a small alarm clock, and holds about 300 CD’s worth of music encoded in a lossless format, it’s pretty remarkable. If I need to move it to the patio or a different room it’s pretty portable.

Living with the iPhone iDrop

Susan got an iPhone first. She loves it more than any gadget she’s ever had. I have to admit I was jealous – really, I am the gadget master in the family and it didn’t seem right that she’d have a new gadget than I.

But I liked my Blackberry. It did almost everything I wanted, and it was a darn good phone to boot. Still, using the iphone convinced me that for portable internet there was nothing beating it. My resistance wavered and then completely collapsed.

I’ve had the phone for more than a month now, and while everyone and their brother has reviewed the thing I can’t pass up the chance to add my input.

So, how do you like it? Is a question you hear a lot when you use your iphone in public. Here’s my answer:

It’s like having the most beautiful, sexy girlfriend in the world, with the unfortunate habit of occasionally puking in your mouth when you kiss her.

What I love:

  • It’s a great little browser in your pocket. People bitch about it not having flash, but I don’t miss it.
  • Even if you have a poor connection (which is most of the time, see below) it will download voicemail so you can still get it.
  • It’s an iPod, albeit missing some features.
  • The screen seriously rivals paper. It’s that good.
  • The glass screen and overall build quality. No creaks, no fragility, just a solid gadget.
  • You Tube is far more fun than I ever thought it would be.
  • If you get a call while listening to music it will fade & pause the music when you answer, and unfade & restart the music when the call is over.
  • Even though it has no push email, IMAP email with Gmail is actually a better solution than Gmail on BlackBerry.

What I hate:

  • The iPhone hangs onto a call about as well as my 77-year old father hangs on to a greased pig. If you’re standing within site of a tower you have a chance. Otherwise, all bets are off.
  • That is, if you can get the call started in the first place. ATT seems to have simplified busy signals, disconnected number signals and call drops all into one “Call Failed” error on the phone.
  • The signal strength meter is more of an “estimated recent signal strength, sort of” meter. I’ve gotten and kept calls with one or even zero bars, and have also had calls drop unexpectedly with 5 bars. Go figure.
  • Bluetooth is a technology to be played with, not used. The relationship between my iPhone and my Jabra headset is more erratic than Brittany Spears relationship with reality. The two will spontaneously decide not to talk to each other and will need to be re-paired.
  • The glass screen provides zero tactile feedback, and is fairly picky about how hard you tap it before it considers it to be a “good” tap.
  • Occasionally my iPhone will take a nap like an old man dozing off in the middle of a story. Because you can’t tell this is happening until you’ve been tapping away at the screen trying to get it to work, when it wakes up there’s no telling where the game of iPhone roulette will end.
  • The iPod part of the phone doesn’t sync the skip count or last skipped data for songs. So, if you’re trying to make use of iTunes’ elaborate smart playlist feature to filter out songs you skipped through, you’re out of luck with the iPhone.
  • For whatever reason, my iPhone takes forever to find and connect to my home wifi network, and will never prompt me to connect.  It will often shows the signal strength as one bar, even when I’m standing next to my wireless access point. Other times it’s 5 bars on the other side of the house. This happens sometimes at other places.
  • Sometimes my iPhone will repeatedly and with great urgency ask me to connect to networks I don’t want to connect to.  We have wifi at work. It’s very locked-down and PDA’s are absolutely not allowed so I really don’t need my iPhone bugging me to connect. I really wish Apple would make an “ignore this network” feature, for places where there is wifi that for whatever reason will never be used.

Overall I like the device, but the relationship is love/hate.  That’s why I say it’s like having a fantastic girlfriend who barfs in your mouth – most of the time things are awesome, but when they go bad it’s such startling, frustrating experience it has me emotionally gagging on the phone.

Let’s hope the new iPhone 2.0 software coming in late June (I’m expecting late July) will tip the balance a bit.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible aka Metro

Whew! For a company who’s other products have names like C-Ruck, Gator, Air Boss, and Chica, that’s a real mouthful. Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible. It’s also a pretty nifty briefcase.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

I received mine a few days ago, and have even had a chance to try it out. I got it in Saffron, both to match my Air Boss, and to help thwart any theives out there. It’s hard to sneak when you’re carrying a bright yellow object.

I agonized a bit over the size. I’ve got a Travelpro laptop bag that measures 3.5″ wide, and it is too small. It’s able to hold the usual amount of paper I’d carry, but forget putting a computer, or any of the usual other junk like a small camera, iPod, notebooks, etc. I also got a Tumi 6″ expandable, which is the exact opposite. I’ve actually gone on overnight trips with just it, with a spare shirt, underwear and toiletries without even expanding it. Of course, when it’s less than full it’s a floppy mess, and not very easy to zip open or closed.

I wanted something in between. I wanted something big enough to hold my computer, some legal pads, a folder or two, along with a host of small items. Maybe also a birding guide, and a small binocular. I kept wondering if the regular briefcase or the slim was what I wanted. I decided to err on the small side, and I’m not disappointed.

I had considered Tom Bihn’s Empire Builder and Zephyr, which appear to be a better value, but both have things I didn’t like.

  • First, they have flaps covering a large open pocket on the front, with zippered pockets on the flap. Those kinds of pockets are great for really small stuff, but they tend to make the flap heavy, which makes it a pain to get into the large pocket under the flap.
  • That flap has a buckle, the mating half of which will dangle because I will mostly not buckle it, which will annoy me.
  • Second, they have the shoulder strap connections on opposite sides of the bag, which tends to hold the bag shut while it’s on my shoulder. The Red Oxx design tends to hold the bag open, and I prefer that because I can always zip the bag shut.
  • They’re an inch taller than the Red Oxx, which is wasted space for the things I carry.
  • They do sell colors, but it’s really a black bag with a colored flap.
  • The Empire Builder is 7″ wide, the Zephyr is 6.3″ wide. Both are really too wide for me.

Still, they’re only $10 or so more than the smaller Red Oxx, but have more padding, more zippable pockets, splashproof zippers and a few other features. I decided I wanted the size, color & features of the Red Oxx.
As I said, I’ve had a chance to play with it, and even use it a bit. Here are my observations:

  • It’s 3.5″ wide, same as the travel pro, but Red Oxx’s bag is 3.5″ on the inside. That extra inch is huge in a bag this size.
  • The inside dividers are covered with pockets – more than you can use. It’s also got slightly over-sized pen holders – large enough to hold screwdrivers or a tire gage.
  • The outside pockets are narrower than I thought they’d be, although the snap is on a strap (see the photo) so you can both fill them up and close them more easily. I think they’re too narrow, but I suspect they’re the same pockets you’d find on their Gator bag, which is smaller. They’re big enough for 2-3 pocket Moleskine notebooks, plus a small item like a deck of cards.
  • The padding is a great idea. It really helps give the bag shape, and it makes it much better behaved when standing. Yep, the bag will stand, you don’t have to lay it down.
  • The handles are curiously long. On my Air Boss they’re so short that if you over stuff the bag at all you cannot get the handle wrap to snap shut. I actually like that feature because I don’t like floppy handles. They catch on things and hang over the opening. I’m surprised they’re so long on this bag.
  • I haven’t used the outside zip pockets, as they’re suited mainly to flat items like air tickets or a magazine or two. But there’s one on either side, with heavy dual zips.
  • The water bottle pockets are thankfully not too baggy and have tight enough elastic to keep small items from falling out. I know that many people must have water bottle pockets, but after the DHS outlawed an entire phase of matter I decided that since water is available pretty much everywhere I go, usually for free, I would stop hauling around a bunch of extra weight. So if I must have water bottle pockets on my bag, it’s nice to be able to use them for something else.
  • The red interior helps make it easier to find things.
  • I like the fact that the zippers don’t go all the way around. I used to carry a Lands End briefcase that would zip flat. One time I hooked the zipper (that case had big metal hoops on the zippers) and dumped most of the contents all over a factory floor.
  • It has the standard “Claw” strap that hangs on like it’s glued to your shoulder.

The construction is as expected – heavy duty. I especially like large zippers, as the small ones on my Tumi, while “self healing” have to heal themselves pretty much every time I zip the bag around the upper corners. Heavier zippers are more tolerant.
Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

For a “Slimline” bag this case holds quite a bit – there’s room for more, although it would start to require taking things out to get to other things. If I was a student or someone who had to haul a lot of binders, I’d definitely get the regular size that’s 7+” thick, but with what I need today, it’s a great fit.

Air Boss still the boss

I just got back from the Primir meeting in Portland, Oregon. Portland is a great city, with a nice transportation, reasonable prices, and the weather was even nice. The Primir meeting was enlightening as always, and it was nice to see everyone again. The travel to and from the meeting was less enjoyable, but I’m alive and these days that’s about the limit of what we expect. It was also a nice chance to play with luggage. 😉

The trip got me thinking about bags again.

A long time ago I stopped carrying a briefcase at all. I had realized that I was mostly hauling a bunch of stuff to work that didn’t need to be there, and stuff back home that didn’t need to be their either. So I just stopped. Then after a while I missed having a few things with me, more than would fit in my pockets. So I started carrying a man-purse. I’ve owned many of these, and the last was a small messenger bag called the Timbuk2 Mini Metro. Then my job changed again, I started missing some paperwork at home, and I bought a Chrome small messenger bag as my Timbuk2 Mini Metro was too small for files. I like the Chrome, but it is really best suited to its intended purpose rather than an impromptu brief case. The metal seatbelt buckle in the front is probably very handy for messengers, but I just keep banging it into things. The size and shape are good, but I miss the small pockets in the Timbuk2.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a briefcase. Yes, I have a few but nothing mid-sized. I used to have a Land’s End canvas briefcase, but tossed it after it got ratty looking. I was not stiff enough anyway.

Then I went to Portland and took my Red Oxx Air Boss & Tom Bihn Brain Cell combination which worked as well as last time. Both did what I expected, and everything went fine. I’m finding that the more I use the Air Boss, the more I like it. Things fit well and the more I use the bag the more I realize the thought that went into not only the design but the precision of the dimensions. For example, if you find the cinch straps in the outer compartments aren’t long enough, you’ve got too much stuff in that compartment and it will bulge when you zip it. When the bag is over stuffed it’s hard to snap the handles together – another signal that the bag is too full, and you may have trouble sticking it in the overhead. You can stuff the bag past these warnings, and I’ve yet to be unable to get it to go where it needed to, but it’s an easier carry when it’s properly loaded. Also, if you’re going carry-on, it’s always good to be asking if you really need to be carrying this or that extra item.

But the fun of luggage is in the pursuit of the perfect solution, and so every time I travel I always thinking about how things could be done better. On this trip I identified the following:

  • I missed having various things with me while in flight, because everything was in the Air Boss, in the overhead. When I have my preferred aisle seat, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get space near my seat it’s no big deal to get up and get something, but I was in the middle on this trip. Note to self – book earlier!
  • I missed having some workout clothes which I couldn’t fit into
    the Air Boss because of the space taken by the computer.
  • The Air Boss gets heavy when my computer is in it. Add some paper, and it gets to be pretty uncomfortable. The Claw strap keeps it on the shoulder, but it’s not a happy shoulder.

So three more votes for a briefcase. I’ve looked at the Tumi Essential Brief, but at $300+ it’s pretty expensive. I’ve looked at Tom Bihn, but they don’t make a slim briefcase, only 6″ or wider. The shoulder straps attach on either side of the body, which tends to make a bag hard to open when it’s on my shoulder as it does with my Travel Pro case. I’ve checked out a few other bags at the local luggage store, but they’re all very fixated on things I just don’t want. Dedicated computer pockets, expandability, special snap-in accessory pouches all add cost without adding real usefulness or flexibility.

So I’m looking at Red Oxx’s “Slim-Line Padded Brief” – with other bags named “Air Boss”, “Gator” or “Benos”, it’s an oddly functional name – and I’ve all but decided to order it pending a few questions from Red Oxx. It looks like the right size, although it may be a bit full when my computer’s in it. Without the computer, how I’d carry it to work, it should be the right size. Not crazy about water bottle pockets, but I can live with them.

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Yet more on the Red Oxx Air Boss

Yes, I know it’s a bit odd that I’ve written more about the bag I used to travel to a conference than the conference itself, but there are lots of folks writing about the conference, and digital printing isn’t an area where I have any expertise. In fact I don’t really have any opinion.

About bags I have a lot of opinions 😉

I’ve used the Red Oxx Air Boss for two flights now, and I’ve got to say it works pretty well. When you combine it with the Tom Bihn Brain cell it’s a great combination. You can take just the Brain Cell and have your computer along with a few other items, and then dump the BC back into the Air Boss when you head back to the airport. If god forbid you’re asked to gate check your bag, you can yank out the Brain Cell and not have to worry about sending your computer into the hold.

The strap from the Air Boss fit the Brain Cell with just a little persuasion, and worked pretty well. More on that later. The Brain Cell is a very good size – enough to carry a computer and a few extras, but not enough to get it so heavy you can’t carry it all day. It held the computer and power adapter just fine, with enough room left over for business cards, pens, a modest show guide, and a small digital camera clipped to the strap. I’d even suggest it could use a thin flap pocket on the side opposite the mesh pocket. The Brain Cell is stiff and padded enough I didn’t worry about my computer at all, I even walked with it in light rain although I’m not sure I’d recommend relying on the Brain Cell to be weather proof.

The Air Boss has held everything with the addition of some souvenier t-shirts, bags of peanuts and Cracker jacks, and the give-away bag from Xerox. The weight is a bit much for lengthy slogs though, and I’d suggest that anyone looking at long walks should be eyeing a bag with backpack straps. The strap is part of the problem, though. I have a love/hate relationship with the strap, mostly hate.

I love it because it’s very sticky, and will not slip off a shoulder. Your outer garment will be missing a sleeve before your bag hits the ground. For lighter bags you carry off one shoulder this is great.

I hate it because it’s very sticky and you cannot shift the bag at all until you remove all the weight from the strap. Even then it’s tough. This is really irritating when I’m carrying a bag messenger style, and shift it to the back while walking to minimize bounce, but need to pull it up front to get something out of it. It doesn’t pull. I basically have to take the bag off to get into it.

The strap is also a bit narrow, and even though the rubber pad is wider, it’s not stiff enough to distribute the load very well. Hanging the bag off a shoulder rather than across the chest was pretty uncomfortable for any substantial length of time. The strap seems identical to Tom Bihn’s TerraGrip strap and I’m guessing neither company makes it themselves. I have a pretty cushy strap from Eagle Creek I’ll try on the next trip.

I’ve thought of a few more potential improvements for the Air Boss:

  1. I was going to suggest a key clip, but then I got a better idea – how about a few rings in each section, to which one could clip small pouches? Failing that, a key clip in the center compartment (where the keys won’t create a hip-irritating lump) would be appreciated. It doesn’t need to be a long leash, just a short but secure clip.
  2. How about a short unsewn section on the handle straps, for carrying an umbrella?
  3. I’m tempted to ask for external compression straps…but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
  4. A flap on the inside of the slip pocket would help keep items in the pocket. A carry on bag eventually has to be lifted overhead and that’s when things start falling out.
  5. When I bought a Tilley hat a long time ago it came with a few “Brag Tags” – small printed cards with info about how to order the hat. The idea was that when people commented to the wearer, he could just pull out a brag tag and hand it to the person making the comment. I’ve been asked by one person about the Air Boss already…

More on the Red Oxx Air Boss

I’m sitting in Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, and next to me is my Red Oxx Air Boss, with Tom Bihn Brain Cell. It’s proven so far to be a pretty awesome combination.

The bag isn’t full – I’ve only got two shirts, underwear, socks, undershirts and a pair of pants on one side and a jacket in the other side, with my laptop, toiletries and a few gadgets in the middle. It’s a bit heavy, and the strap padding could be a bit thicker. But it didn’t even come close to sliding off my shoulder.

The outside pocket did fine to hold the things I need handy, and the slip pocket held my very threatening zip baggy of toothpaste to satisfy TSA regulations. The bag is not small, but it doesn’t feel big either. Like an oversized briefcase. I’ve actually carried briefcases heavier than this, back when I used to think I had to carry 5 books on a flight 😉

I’d originally thought the shoulder strap was a bit narrow, but I discovered an advantage to it – it fits the clip on my blackberry holster better. It’s the width of a men’s dress belt, so that makes sense.img_0674.jpg

There it is sitting happily in an airport chair.img_0675.jpg

I pulled the Brain Cell out a bit so you can get a look at it – the two bags make an awesome combination.

So far the only suggestions I would have are:

  1. Add a pencil/pen slot or two at one end of the large slip pocket. You could just run a line of stitching about 2″ long about 1″ in from an end to form a short sleeve that would hold a pen perfectly.
  2. If you put a bit of padding at the bottom, carrying a laptop directly in the bag would be a lot safer.

So far, it’s been a good bag!

I’ve been Air Bossed

My long awaited Air Boss arrived a few days ago. It arrived at work, so I could only pull it out of the box and inspect it briefly. Even so, here are my initial observations:

  • The saffron color is, well, saffron. For some reason I was expecting a much colder yellow – I think it was a picture I saw on a another site discussing the bag – even though the color matches the Red Oxx site photos perfectly.
  • It’s light and soft. Because of this, the fabric seems a bit insubstantial. After a moment’s thought, I realized why it felt this way. First, my usual murse (man purse) is a black Timbuk2 metro, which has a thick rubbery coating on the inside which makes it very stiff and quite heavy. Second, whenever I envisioned the Air Boss, I was imagining my Tumi briefcase of a similar design. It’s made of ballistic nylon, which seems denser and heavier than the Cordura used in the Air Boss.
  • It seems small. However, I’ve learned that luggage, particularly soft luggage, is often very deceptive when it comes to size. Bags that seem huge fill quicker than expected, and seemingly stuffed bags swallow unexpected loads with no trouble.
  • The zippers seem very large – not a bad thing, just surprising.
  • There are three external pockets. One full length that has a simple snap closure, one full length zip, and one narrow (the space between the handle straps) zip. The narrow one surprisingly goes all the way to the bottom of the bag, but it’s wide enough to get my arm down there so it works ok. The pocket is intended to hold airline tickets and that sort of thing, and it should work well for that. The fact that it goes to the bottom provides a place for a few rarely needed but necessary items, like packets of Immodium, cold medicine and aspirin.
  • I was a little surprised to find the bottom of the main compartment wasn’t padded – some of the web references I found suggested folks putting their laptops in there so I assumed it would be padded. It doesn’t matter to me because I ordered a Brain Cell from Mr. Tom Bihn to take care of my computer.

But will it hold enough?

When I brought it home later in the day I could try it out, and I packed the following with ease:

Side A: 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was full but not bulging at all – another shirt would be no problem.

Side B: 1 blazer, 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was bulging a bit – I could have gotten more in there, but the bag would start being football-shaped.

Middle: 1 pair of shoes and 4 pair each of socks and underwear. I think I could have gotten my laptop and toiletries in there with no room to spare.

In total I fit four day’s worth of clothes without wearing the same shirt twice. Normally, I’d take only more underwear/undershirts/socks to get more days in a business environment so I think the bag really is good for a week on the road. Indefinitely if laundry services are available. In one of Red Oxx owner Jim Markel’s trip reports he mentions what he packed in an Air Boss, and it seems reasonable to me. A full suit and two shirts, along with a few ties and an undershirt to be the core would be no problem in one side alone.

I used the bundle method for the clothing, except the t-shirts which were folded and formed the center of each bundle. I think it would have worked better with them just being bundled like the rest. If I needed much more clothing or was traveling in winter I think I would probably take a separate bag for the computer, or just the brain cell as it can take a shoulder strap. The beauty of the bundle method is that it’s very space efficient. The bad news is that there’s no pulling out just one item – you have to unpack.

Once the bag was full, silly for thinking it was small. It’s not that huge, but the bag hides it’s width when it’s empty. When it’s full it grows to it’s full 8″+ width and the center of gravity moves further away from my body. Even so on my shoulder it didn’t seem very heavy, or hard to manuever. The shoulder strap has pretty soft, grippy rubber which is very shoulder friendly. It attaches with normal clips, so other straps could be substituted if needed.

Another thing I noticed is that the zip for the center compartment is centered on the bag, so the strap is offset to one side. This favors carrying the bag so the larger outside zip pocket is away from your body. I’m not sure if this or the non-zip pocket would be better on the outside. Usage will tell. If choosing between centering the zip or the strap was part of the design process, I’d be interesting to hear the trade-offs that were discussed.

I like:

  • The size seems perfect. It’s big enough to haul as much as you can reasonably lift, assuming it’s mostly clothes.
  • The three-compartment design is aimed at clothing and allows the bag to work even if you have enough to fill only the two outside compartments. A single compartment bag just doesn’t work when it’s not full. This bag was designed as a collaboration with Doug Dyment (of OneBag.com fame) and Red Oxx so it’s no surprise it’s laid out well.
  • Dealing with Red Oxx is a pleasure, as you would expect a smaller US-based manufacturer to be. You also know that the folks who made the bag are paid a living wage.
  • The outside zip pocket is large enough and well placed to hold all of the last minute items I ditch into my bag as I get to airport security.

I like less:

  • The zippers aren’t covered. The missing cover on the outside means that leaving this bag in the rain will more likely mean wet clothes. Outside covers do tend to hide the zipper handles, although the really nifty monkey-fist pulls would alleviate this.
  • The yellow fabric is light enough that you can see through it somewhat. Granted, it’s not like I’ll be carrying anything secret in the outside pockets, but it was noticeable when I stuck magazines in the outside pockets I could read the titles. On the other hand, it does make it easier to find stuff. I would assume that this is a color specific issue.
  • The pockets aren’t lined. This isn’t a big deal as it doesn’t make the bag less useful. It’s just a “nice touch” that I’ve seen on other bags, i.e. Tumi. It does make me extra glad I ordered the Saffron color because they are real bright inside – it will be no trouble to find stuff. I used to buy every bag in black, and I’ve learned that light interiors really make a bag easier to use. The main compartments are lined except for the ends, top and bottom.
  • Overall the bag doesn’t exude the solidity I expected. Again, this goes to my comparison to Tumi and perception of weight. What I have to remember is that if Tumi made this bag it would be a) Black, b) at least $200 more, and c) probably a pound or two heavier. I asked the folks at Red Oxx about the fabric choice, and they responded that using ballistic would have been a) heavier, and b) limited the choice of colors.

So far I’m pleased with the Air Boss and I’m anxious to see how this bag will work out on my way to the OnDemand conference. It’s only two nights, and not very formal so I’ll be taking only this bag. A week later I have a four night trip that’s more which will be a tougher test.

Tools

Adam over at Printmode recently wrote about the tools he uses, and invited me to do the same.

I have quite a few I guess, as a lot of the work I do is research oriented. I’m not sure I could name them all, but I can name the ones that I find especially useful:

First, I use Windows (I have to, as it’s what we use at work), Mac (bittersweet), and Ubuntu Linux (also bittersweet). I use Linux mostly because I feel I’ll end up there eventually, so I might as well start getting my feet wet. I also find a bit of delight in using very high quality software on a high quality OS, when neither has cost me anything. I do find that Open Office just doesn’t measure up to Excel, however, so I stick to MS Office for most documents.

Firefox. Without this browser I wouldn’t have had tabbed browsing for all the time it’s taken Microsoft’s geniuses to figure it out. During that time I’ve become quite hooked. I haven’t yet upgraded to 2.0, I’m still using 1.5.x on a U3 usb key. This way I have my environment on any computer I sit at, at home or at work, including the full Open Office suite, Thunderbird (if I desire), and lots of other apps.

Performancing
& Adsense Notifier are two Firefox plugins I use regularly, to write blog posts and see what my adsense ads are doing. No, adsense doesn’t do much more than defray hosting expenses, but I can dream, can’t I? I’ve used Blogjet and Ecto on Windows and Mac respectively, but most of my posts don’t have pictures so Performancing works just as well and is in the browser where it’s handy.

As for website platforms, I use WordPress for blogs (the non-hosted kind), phpBB for SpeakStrategy, soon to be upgraded to something that handles spam users better, Drupal for a work site, and SugarCRM & pmwiki for managing some personal stuff. It’s truly a pleasure to work with such high-quality, open source software and I’d recommend these packages (ok, phpBB with many caveats) to anyone.

For email, it’s gmail and fastmail.fm. Really, gmail does what I need these days. I have two accounts, one that is hooked to my email domain, which forwards to another because only non-domain accounts have real-time push to blackberry (I don’t rate a corporate blackberry, so I use my own). For encryption I use both the built-in digital-id based encryption using keys from Thawte, and PGP, although frankly neither sees a lot of use.

At work it’s the ubiquitous Outlook, with draconian quotas and attachment policies. I use Nelson Email Organizer to help maintain my sanity.

Google Calendar takes care of my non-work related events, and it’s easy enough to copy events from outlook to google calendar just by inviting myself at the appropriate email address.

Joe’s Goals lets me track a few things I’d like to control better. It allows me to put a graph here on Lornitropia to let everyone else see when I’m letting myself down ;-). Speaking of graphs, I use a neato graphing package on my run blog to track mileage, weight loss and other stuff.

Stat Counter
and Google Analytics allow me to see how my various sites are doing.

Google Reader is now my preferred RSS reader.

Linkedin, xing, Plaxo, and several other sites provide both good networking tools and good research tools, along with Zoominfo & Jigsaw. Anagram makes it easy to suck contact info out of anything and into Outlook’s contacts. The Linkedin and Plaxo toolbars for Outlook are both really handy, but are both pretty buggy.

Search engines used are Google, of course, but also Ask. Frankly, I keep hearing that one needs to use more than google, but I find it’s pretty rare that I find something that Google didn’t have. I also use Copernic, desktop for finding stuff on my machine, web for doing very thorough searches outside Google and Tracker for keeping tabs on websites I monitor.

Highbeam
is pretty useful, although they don’t have many printing industry publications. LexusNexus and Hoovers also provide some value, albeit at a very high price.

iTunes
and iPod mean the difference between listening to podcasts and not for me. Both are awesome products that just work like crazy.

As a main CI database I use Strategy Software, which is pretty darned cool.

Photos – Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp. For storing them, iPhoto is what I use now, but Picasa was very capable when I was using it.

Who’s Next?

Hmmm…

Dr. Joe Webb
Mike Rohde
Des Walsh

Tool Review: Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker

A short while ago I finally bought something I’ve been eyeing for a long time: A Spyderco Tri-angle Sharpmaker sharpening system.

It was inevitable

Now I’m a bit of a sharpening nut, and I’ve owned just about every gadget imaginable for putting an edge on something. I’m also a sucker for just about anything that promises to make it easier to do so. So it was inevitable that I would end up with a Sharpmaker in my shop eventually.

The sharpmaker consists of four stones, really ceramic sticks of triangular cross-section, and a plastic base to hold them at a few angles along with two brass safety rods to keep you from flaying your own hands in the process. Everything packs into a fairly small box – about the size of a large water stone.

The sticks are triangular and the base has star-shaped holes – the result is that the sticks can be oriented so that either the face or the edge of the triangle is the sharpening surface. The edges are faster, the faces leave a smoother finish. Each stone has a slot in one face, to facilitate sharpening awls and fishhooks and the like.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how to use the system because it comes with both a good manual and a video to boot.

Glad I bought it

Overall, I’m glad I bought it. It will probably become my favored way of keeping an edge on just about any knife or pair of scissors I have. That said, there are a few things I don’t like.

But it’s not perfect

First, the base is flexible enough to move when you use the system, which allows the angles to change a bit. I’m not sure what effect this has on creating a sharp edge, but it certainly feels mushy and distracting. The base has counter-sunk holes for screwing it to a base or table, but that of course hampers portability.

Second, the holes for the sticks are loose enough that they wiggle a bit. This combined with the flexing really encourages a light touch and slow going. Maybe they designed it this way on purpose.

Third, the course sticks are coarse, but not really edge-repair coarse. If you have something that is dull enough to almost be childproof, you’re going to be at it a looong time with this system.

Fourth, while the system can be used (sort of) on chisels, plane irons and the like, it’s not really suited to that. In that case, you can get decent-sized ceramic bench stones.

Fifth, the stones load quickly and have to be scrubbed clean with kitchen cleanser (I use Barkeeper’s Friend). Just kind of a pain, but not as difficult as keeping oil or water on sticks held at a 60-degree angle 😎

Still, it’s good system, and a few strokes will keep any knife sharp.

What surprised me was how sharp. Normally, for any knife I would consider whittling with if it won’t shave the hair off my arm pretty effortlessly it’s not sharp enough. So any sharpening method had better be capable of creating such an edge. The Sharpmaker is. It did it in just a few minutes on my Victorinox Executive, which is my normal pocket knife, and was less than sharp from cutting boxes. I was impressed.

Thumbs up!