Hardware: What’s in my bag?

I’ve been reading a tech site called The Verge for about a year now (or since they launched at any rate) and one of my favorite features that they do is their “What’s in your bag…” series.

In these articles they take someone from their staff, or even guests, and ask them to write about the bag they carry everyday and what’s inside it typically. Not only do I find this topic oddly fascinating, but it’s also a great way to see what other folks in your field are using in their day to day to make whatever systems they have in their lives run smoothly. The writer in me also loves how it is a bit a character study as well.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to do that here in this space for a while and finally found the time to take pictures this week. So, much thanks and credit goes to The Verge for the idea and I hope you enjoy!

So here is my bag and all of it’s contents:

My bag and everything inside it

A quick rundown is in order I think! Here’s the list of what you are looking at (starting top left and moving left to right):

A pair of over the ear Sennheiser HD280 pro’s

  • A 13in Retina MacBook Pro
  • REI Quantum Messenger Pack
  • Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set
  • Leatherman Skeletool Multitool
  • Pair of Apple Ear Buds
  • Two thumbnail drives (One Ultra 2gig and another Sandisk 32gig)
  • USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices
  • Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor
  • 3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable
  • Square Credit Card Reader
  • Two small Moleskin Journals
  • My Mighty Wallet
  • My keys

Sure, there are other things that will sneak into my bag from time to time, but this is what I typically have in it everyday!

Now if you are already bored out of your skull, you might as well head back to your Twitter or Facebook feeds. But if you have that same curiosity that I have, stick around! Because I’d love to tell you about these things individually and show you why I carry around this stuff everyday.

Still here? Awesome. Let’s dive in shall we?

Sennheiser HD280 pro’s headphones

Sennheiser HD280 pro

I work in front of a computer for at least eight hours a day. During that time it’s mostly project-based work, so I find that listening to music is a wonderful escape from everything around me. Originally I used a crappy pair of cheap ear buds, then I tried the on-the-ear kind and in both cases after three straight hours of use, my ears were killing me. So it was around a year ago that I went on the hunt for a good (read: not super spendy), quality pair of over the ear headphones. I needed 4 things out of them:

  • Little to no noise bleed. I hate disrupting my neighbors.
  • Comfort. Good padding for prolonged use.
  • Above average sound quality. I am not an audiophile per say, but music is extremely important to me.
  • A long cord. I don’t want to take them off or have them yanked off my head when I reach for something behind me.

I already had a few folks that I trusted for reviews, chief amongst them Marco Arment, and when I found his comprehensive reviews of headphones last year like this one on his site, he frequently referred back to this pair of Sennheiser’s as his main pair for listening to anything hours on end.

I bought them from Amazon and have yet to think of buying another pair. They are very comfortable, have a long spiral, springy cord, emit very low noise bleed and the sound quality is exceptional.

A great buy!

13in Retina MacBook Pro

13in Retina MacBook Pro

As I’ve mentioned many, many times on this site; I am a Mac user. It’s nothing personal. I use PC’s and Macs all day at work and OSX is just fits my life and my daily workflows best. Both platforms have merit.

That all said, I spent around 8 months trying to live without a laptop, utilizing just my iPad and a bluetooth keyboard, and the gaps where a laptop could’ve really sped things up for me became too hard to traverse.

So I had to go back. I’ve been using the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display for everything about two months now and I can honestly say, without a single shred of doubt, that this is the finest computer I’ve ever owned.

And for those who are wondering if the screen is worth the extra cash: yes, it really is.

The bag itself

The bag I settled on is the REI Quantum Messenger Pack from REI. It’s nothing incredibly fancy but it’s got a padded sleeve for my computer, lots pockets for pens, notepads and all of my accessories, nice touches like a felt-lined pocket for your smart phone, mesh pockets for easy line of sight for anything you don’t want to dig around for, thickly padded shoulder straps… seriously, its a really great bag! What sold me on it though was the bag-length zipper on the side that unzips directly into the laptop sleeve so that it’s easy to take it out and put it back in while traveling.

It’s not all that expensive either if you can find it (it looks like it’s no longer on REI’s site).

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

I am, at times, a woefully impatient person. Especially when it comes gadgets and upgrades. If you have ever needed a computer screwdriver set in a pinch and didn’t have one on hand, you’ll know what I am talking about. If you have never needed a set, you probably view it as extra bulk.

I have needed them, several times in fact and after the last time, I stopped off at Lowes on the way home and snagged this set. I paid very little for it and I will definitely need a new set soon, as the heads are chipping and stripping from use over the years. My next set will be better quality for sure.

The whole set, when zipped closed, is quite light and takes up very little room. I just tuck them in, down at the bottom of my bag.

To this day, I am still shocked at how much I reach for these little guys.

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Like the screwdriver set above, I am shocked at how many times I need a good pair of needle nose pliers, or a good knife, or philips head, or a wire cutter, or a bottle opener, or a… well, you get the point.

I use the Skeletool both for hiking/camping, as well as my day-to-day. It’s light for what it is, but also incredibly well built.

Again, when I’ve needed it, I’ve been so psyched that I had it in my bag. It’s incredibly adept at solving problems.

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

These poor bastards have been through the wringer and are also hands down my least favorite Apple product. But, that all said, I keep them in my bag for when they are spatially more appropriate or when I am only sitting down for a few hours of work. The cord is too short, the sound is ok and, as you can tell from the glue on the ear pieces, they are falling apart. I basically keep them in my bag because they get the job done, but also I wouldn’t be bummed if I left them somewhere.

Two thumbnail drives

Two thumbnail drives

I move files around from computer to another a lot. I also like sharing. So in the case where items are too big to attach to an email or you aren’t networked directly to your needed destination: thumbnails drives are still pretty damn convenient.

Mine were cheap and the only reason why I keep to 2gig one around is because it still works like a champ. Mostly I always go for my 32gig one.

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices and a Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices

Incredibly handy when you need to offload pictures from a USB device to your iOS device. Also an amazing adapter to add to your travel kit.

The Thunderbolt to VGA adaptor is solely for work purposes. Because you’d be shocked at how many office projectors/monitors still use the old-school VGA connections.

3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

3ft 1/8" Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

If you ever are traveling and have wanted to plug your MP3 player into a stereo wherever you hang your hat for the evening, this cheap little cableis a must! Just plug it into the head phone jack of your player and connect the red to red and the white to white on the back of any stereo you encounter.

After a long day on the road, I am always relieved when I get to listen to my tunes through speakers. It’s not possible without this little travel companion. You can find them in almost any store in town, including most grocery stores (I bought this one at a local RadioShack on our last vacation).

Square Credit Card Reader

Square Credit Card Reader

I could seriously write an entire separate post on this tiny wonderful gadget (and I most likely will) , but this post alone is getting pretty epic so I will keep it short.

Square is basically an online service that allows you take credit card payments with your phone or tablet device. Just plug this card reader into the headphone jack of your phone, download Square’s app and you are ready to take payments from anyone. If you do freelance work or even run a full-fledged business, this little piece of plastic is a godsend.

Read more about Square here. You get the card reader free when you set up an account.

Two Small Moleskin Journals

Two Moleskin Journals

Though I do almost all of my journaling digitally now, I still run into the occasional instance where it’s just quicker to snag some pen and paper and scribble ideas and thoughts down.  These journals from Moleskin are cheap, take up very little space and the paper inside writes quite smoothly with any pen that’s nearby.  They come in lined and blank versions. I almost always use blank books because my note taking is a little unstructured.

My Wallet and Keys…

My Wallet and Keys

Yeah… so, this is my wallet and these are my keys….

I don’t like a lot of things in my pockets so I keep them in the zippered back pocket of my bag.

A lot of people ask about my wallet, I got it from “Mighty Wallet by Dynomighty Designs”. If you are looking for a thin (and I mean literally paper thin) wallet that can hold a lot and can take a beating (they are all made of Tyvek) that is super affordable. Give these guys a try! I got mine for the design and have kept it because it hasn’t given up on me or my lifestyle. Not yet anyways.

Wow… You Made It This Far! I’m Impressed!

If you made it this far, I am guessing you found some use or odd entertainment in it all, just like I often do. I know it’s weird but I just love reading how other people do the exact same things I do, but differently!

So what do you use in your day to day? Do you have some better suggestions for me?If so, leave them in the comments below! I’d love hear about them!

As always, thanks for coming by!

Hardware: Thoughts on the iPad Mini….

iPad Mini

As I’m sure many of you noticed today, Apple released the much anticipated and, as it turns out, thoroughly leaked, iPad Mini. And there was much rejoicing right? Right?!

Well, for me, the answer is “yes and no”.

Now it was only just announced, so obviously I haven’t touched or used the device, but the first question I had when the initial rumors started dropping (months ago) waswhat would I have to give up to fit this into my current tech eco-system? If I did get it, what would I change? I’d definitely relinquish my old iPad to Gazelle, as there truly would be no need for two tablets. I figured it would be at least as powerful as my iPhone5 or the 3rd gen iPad and it’d also presumably be thinner and lighter, also two huge bonuses!

In fact, about the only thing that would stop me from buying one honestly was the screen. And by this don’t mean the issue of compromised screen real estate, which has never been an issue for me (I’ve actually written happily on my iPhone on numerous occasions). But the resolution? Screen resolution would definitely be a deal-breaker for me. Put simply, Apple’s “Retina” display technology that was released with the iPhone4 has completely and utterly spoiled me. So much so, that it’s a genuine distraction to use other devices of lesser quality.

So naturally, when the rumor mill started churning out tidbits of how the new iPad Mini was was going to have the same screen as the trusty old iPad2, I had my concerns. This rumor of course turned out to be true, as well as the hardware being less robust than the third gen iPad 3. Take away the finish and the new iPad Mini is basically a smaller iPad 2.

Which, to this unabashed Apple enthusiast, was a completely missed opportunity.

While it’s always amazing to me how Apple continues shrink it devices into smaller and thinner form factors making them more and more beautiful, aesthetics can only go so far. Eventually people notice when they can spend a little more to get a little more.

So when they dropped the price during the presentation (50 bucks less than the iPad 2), the deal was sealed for me. I’d crossed that line between “interested” to, “I just don’t want it”. Which is a shame really, because I could definitely see the use of a smaller, lighter, retina display equipped, same-internals-as-the-iPhone5, based iPad in my life. For travel it’d be a dream. The screen would still be an excellent size for everything I do on my iPad now and I absolutely wouldn’t have seen it as compromise on any level.

But I’m clearly not the demographic they are trying to sell this to and that is absolutely, positively fair. I’ll continue to wait it out until they have what I’m hoping for. I’m sure it’s in the works. I can be patient. In fact, I predict that at this time next year? The iPad2 will be gone, the iPad mini will take it’s place and it will stand proud next to the full-sized iPad, retina display and all! You heard it here first people (trust me, I am not the first to make that prediction)! :)

In closing, I guess what I find the most interesting about today’s announcement is that, for me anyways, Apple actually shot for the lowest common denominator, which isn’t typical for them. No one can drum up prelim excitement like Apple can and this incoming announcement had the community at a fever pitch. Which leaves me wondering how everyone will feel after the dust settles and the “new product announcement” high wears off.

My guess is that, while they’ll think it’s a beautiful product (and it is), they’ll be waiting to pull the trigger just like me.

Now that new iMac and retina 13in Macbook Pro? Those are pretty damn enticing…

Pics linked from apple.com

Hardware: Review of Logitech’s K750 and K760 Wireless Solar Keyboards

Apple Bluetooth Keyboard

For the last few years, I have been using my ever-faithful Apple bluetooth keyboard for my wireless keyboard needs (Laptop, iPad, iPhone, Mac Mini, you name it…). I chose it for the following reasons:

  1. It’s got a good form factor
  2. It is ruggedly built (I have dropped it several times and it has kept ticking without a hitch).
  3. Despite it’s form factor it has got a full size layout for its keys (sans number pad). Which is always important. I hate feeling cramped while typing.
  4. It pairs relatively easily with devices and the Mac-specific hotkeys at the top are quite quite handy (particularly when used with the iPad)
  5. It’s easy to grab and slide into my bag when I need to just go.

But, that all said, there are a few drawbacks. Small stuff mostly, but chief amongst them is the Apple keyboard’s need of batteries to function and it’s ability to have it’s bluetooth connection turned on by accident (draining the batteries of both your device and the keyboard) if the large button on its side gets touched by a feather.

Both of these issues caused me to reevaluate my selection of a keyboard and at least start to research what is out there nowadays for alternative options. Suffice it to say, I found a lot!

 

The best options built specifically for the Mac, that weren’t built by Apple, seemed to be offered by Logitech. They have a great selection with a lot of options, but in the end I settled on their series of solar powered keyboards. They support all of the current Apple command key shortcuts, have zero need for batteries (fully charged, it can be used for three continuous months in complete darkness) and, in the case of the travel version, they have the ability to hot swap between multiple bluetooth devices. Which is handy if you need to quickly disconnect from one device and quickly pair with another (from an iPad to a desktop, for instance).

Here are the two I went with:Logitech K760 Wireless Solar KeyboardFor the iPad I went with the Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar KeyboardAnd for the Mac Mini I splurged and snagged the full sized Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for Mac®

They both perform easily as well as their Apple manufactured counterparts and while they don’t feel as well built as Apple’s aluminum keyboards, they by no means feel cheap in any way.

Function-wise, they both have worked flawlessly. I love that the hotkeys (the “F” keys) that are in the top row of the Apple keyboard, can all be found on the Logitechs (the media-based buttons work even on the iPad!). Also, eco-stance aside, I really love that I don’t have to worry about having my rechargeable batteries around and charged up when my keyboard dies. The solar cell at the top, does change the footprint (and the aesthetic if that’s important to you) obviously, making the keyboard, in both cases, taller. But the exchange for battery life and the simple convenience of putting it in any kind of light to recharge it, definitely trumps these quibbles for me.

The bluetooth hot swapping on the K760? It works as advertised and is pretty damn amazing! Once paired up (easy to do as well) I was swapping between my iPad, iPhone and Macbook with a simple keystroke. It’s fast and way more convenient than I originally anticipated. Definitely not a gimmicky feature! It is the real deal and quite helpful.

One odd difference between the two? The K760 keys are WAY more “clicky” than the K750. So if you are into that, or are obsessive about stealth typing, than you may want to take a note of this. I noticed it right away.

Lastly, the K750 comes with a free app you can snag from the Mac App Store that gives you real time info on your charge and the amount of light/solar energy your keyboard is currently receiving. Pretty neat to bring up and watch, not to mention handy if you need to know how much juice your keyboard currently has left. Again, it’s only for K750, but it is well implemented on the Mac.

So if it wasn’t clear enough yet, I will come out and say it: I am pretty smitten with these keyboards! I’ve used the K750 for a month now and the K760 for a little over week. They have not given me one bit of buyer’s remorse. Quite the opposite actually. I wish more peripherals were made with this kind of utility and function.

Two thumbs up! Way up! Highly recommended!

Writing: My Writing Setup Part 2 – Hardware

I touched upon this in a previous post but, as that post was focused on the software I used, I thought I’d expound a little more on my writing setup from a hardware level and why I chose the setup that I did.

I’ve taken a very minimalist approach to the hardware I use in my writing nowadays. I used to have a 13in MacBook Pro and that was WAY more hardware than I needed for 90% of what I do with a computer everyday. I considered selling it for one of these, but even that seemed like overkill. So when the last iPad came out I was then convinced that I could whittle things down even further, go even lighter, even more portable. So I did what a lot of people in the tech and writing field still consider to be unthinkable: I traded in the laptop for a iPad.

I won’t lie, it hasn’t been the easiest transition but, to be honest, it hasn’t been that bad either. I actually only find the setup to be irritating in the most small and unexpected ways. But the cool part is, is that there are always ways around any issue or hurdle I’ve come across so far. Do I miss my laptop? Sometimes. That’s unavoidable. There are still some instances where I have no choice but to seek out some morerobust hardware to do some heavy lifting. But, in all honesty, it’s been shocking at how much I don’t have those situations pop up.

Bar none the iPad’s been amazingly capable.

So! With out further adieu, here is my current hardware setup for writing (and a ton more)!

  1. An iPad – (2012, 3rd generation)
  2. A stand (TwelveSouth’s Compass)
  3. Apple’s bluetooth keyboard

iPad SetupiPad Setup side view

There are plenty of alternatives out there that I considered, BUT, I already owned a spare Apple bluetooth keyboard and I had no interest in spending the extra cash involved in buying an alternative.

The good news is, purely by circumstance and not experience, I actually ended up prefering my setup to a clamshell-based iPad case for a variety of reasons. Here are the Pro’s and Cons!

PROS:

  1. Because the keyboard isn’t attached, I am not handcuffed to being a set distance away from my iPad. I can sit as far away or as close as I want. It also helps with ergonomics if you have issues with that. Separating the keyboard from the screen really affords a lot of customization. Me? I typically have the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the stand on the table in front of me. It’s just more comfortable for me that way.
  2. The particular stand I bought allows for some natural adjustment of how the iPad sits on it. So there’s some good angle adjustments you can make to make sure you are not Quasimodo-ing over your screen. The free standing nature of it all gives a great amount freedom to place things where you want. It accommodates you rather than the other way around.
  3. The 2012 iPad’s screen resolution. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard all about the wonders and spectacle (including unicorns) of the most recent iPad’s screen resolution but, I gotta admit, it’s pretty damn glorious and way nicer on eye strain than the models before it. If you can spare the extra scratch, I highly recommend it. Especially if you plan on spending a good amount of time in front of it. Think of it as an investment in your ever faithful eyeballs. :)

CONS:

  1. Everything’s separate and in individual pieces. No, I’m not crazy. I know I just extolled the fact that separate pieces are my preference. But it’s also one of my setup’s greatest weaknesses. An “all-in-one” setup is easy to grab, throw in a bag and go. It’s definitely more convenient. But in this case I chose my own comfort over ease of use. When you get to your writing location with an all in one setup, you put it on the table, open it and get to work. With my setup, you sit down, take out the stand, unfold and set it up, place the iPad on it, take out the keyboard, turn it on, sync it to the iPad and then get to work. In short, it’s definitely something to consider.
  2. Stand weight. As much as love my stand, the TwelveSouth stand is woefully hefty. Some might argue that the ruggedness is a strength and testimate to the quality of the product. It’s hard to argue against that but, I’d prefer a stand that was WAY lighter and made with the same quality. I haven’t found one yet, but I’m definitely on the hunt.
  3. Battery life. A bluetooth keyboard needs batteries and, in return, crushes the battery life of your iPad as well. So, wireless convenience definitely comes at a price. And packing extra batteries or a charger can definitely be a drag.

So no doubt, there is a good bit to consider and there definitely isn’t what I’d call a silver bullet solution. Like many things, it all comes down to your life and your preferences. For me, my setup definitely outweighs the inconveniences that are packaged within. They suck up mere minutes and only add a little extra weight to my bag. Does it successfully replace my laptop? Yes, for me it does. But please remember that I predominantly write, check email, Twitter, and browse the web. I do occasionally code but not at a rate that would necessitate anything above my memory and a basic text editor. So, in short, this setup works for me, but it may not work for you! Don’t get suckered into the latest round of “ditch your laptop for an iPad” propaganda. It’s a romantic notion for sure, but it definitely doesn’t accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. Not yet anyways.

Hopefully you found this useful! Hit me up up on Twitter if you didn’t or have something to add! I would genuinely love to hear it! I think a lot of folks are curious about this situation. I know I was!

Hope you all had a good week,

Tad