These days I travel around with enough computing power to control a spaceship - how about you?
I remember when I was a young lad at university circa the late 1970s. I used to read electronics hobbyist magazines and drool over adverts for rudimentary single-board computers with 1K ROM, 1K RAM, a hexadecimal keypad, and a couple of 7-segment LED displays. I cannot tell you how I lusted after one of those little beauties, but they were way out of my price range as a student.
I dreamed of one day owning my own computer (although I didn’t think it likely). At that time, I had no idea that one day I would be walking around with enough computing power strapped to my back to control a spaceship.
In a recent column, I briefly described the various pieces of electronic kit I carry around with me, and someone commented as follows:
I think that you should start a contest to see who takes the backpack with the largest variety of stuff (electronic equipment, test tools, adapters, etc.) through security. Contestants should submit pictures detailing everything they have in their bag. On average I have at least two flights a month (most of them internationally) and I carry a civilian version of pack that Camelbak made for the US military loaded with about 15Kg of stuff.
This started me thinking, resulting in the column you are now reading. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Please email any pictures and descriptions of the contents of your backpack to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for me to use in a follow-up blog.
In fact, I actually wander around carrying both a backpack and a messenger bag, as illustrated below. These go with me everywhere. I bring them into work each morning and take them home again each night, and they form my carry-on luggage when I'm traveling.
I started using the Swiss Gear IBEX Computer Backpack (on the left-hand side of the image) back in 2010 following an unfortunate accident with a cheap-and-cheerful pack I had been using. I store my main notepad computer in my backpack. The problem is that this is a tad large to squeeze under a seat when you are traveling on a plane. What I want to do is immediately slide it into an overhead locker and take my seat. Thus I also carry my leather messenger back from Saddleback Leather. In addition to holding my reserve notebook, this also carries my traveling essentials, such as my iPad and noise-cancelling headphones, etc.
OK, now let's delve into these little rascals to see what they contain. As I say, I carry them around with me every day -- the various items are always stored in the same locations. "A place for everything, and everything in its place," as they say.
Before each trip, I completely empty both bags and then repack them to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. I guess this is now part of my traveling ritual, but there's also the fact that "I R an Engineer!" The main thing is that once I've repacked everything, I have renewed confidence to face the ordeals of the coming trip. A brief summary of the various items is as follows:
- My main notepad computer. When I'm working in my office, I predominantly use a tower computer with three 28-inch monitors, but I also use this notepad -- this is the one that sits on top of my treadmill desk during the day. (See Welcome to the Pleasure Dome.)
- The power supply for the main notepad computer.
- The mouse I use with the main notebook computer.
- A wireless mouse-type thing that acts as a laser pointing device and allows me to control PowerPoint presentations while giving talks.
- My Flip video camera.
- This is actually my iPhone, which is usually in my pocket. In this picture it's standing in for my 16-mexapixel digital camera that I'm using to take the above picture.
- The charger for the digital camera.
- The headset that accompanies the Dragon speech recognition software that's loaded on my main notepad (this software is very useful when I'm walking/working on the desk treadmill in my office).
- A power extension cable with three sockets on the end; I find this to be very handy when I'm on a long layover in an airport and there are limited power sockets available.
- A bunch of USB flash drives. I remember when the first ones came out -- 32MB (yes, megabytes) and I could barely afford one; now they come in multi-gigabytes and people give them away. Note in particular the tubular device (second from the left); this is a 32GB stick in a container that's waterproof to a depth far greater than I could hope to survive.
- A collection of batteries for various appliances.
- The charger for my iPad and iPhone.
- A paper notepad (I also carry a bunch of pens, not shown here) and a couple of unread graphic novels I carry in case of an emergency.
- My backup notepad computer. This is the one that sits on the docking station on my desk during the day. (Again, see Welcome to the Pleasure Dome.) Traveling with two notepad computers may seem a little excessive, but wherever I am I spend all day working on the Internet, and if I have only one computer that crashes and burns, then I'm dead in the water (as it were).
- The power supply for my backup notepad computer.
- The mouse I use with the backup notepad computer.
- My trusty iPad (yes, I couldn’t resist, the leather cover is also from Saddleback Leather).
- My Sony digital noise-cancelling headphones (they make flying bearable).
- An incredible little Bluetooth loudspeaker I use with my iPad. This was a gift from Microsemi at the recent Design West 2013, and I have to say that I am blown away by the quality of the sound.
- Another paper notepad and some more unread graphic novels I carry in case of an emergency.
One thing that's not shown in the image above is the fact that I invariably have a couple of paperback books on me when I'm traveling (plus several more in my main suitcase). Now, you may think this is silly, but for the longest time I used to stuff all of the cables in one pouch of my main backpack. The result was that I spent countless hours untangling wires. Then, one day a couple of years ago, it struck me to start putting each charger, mouse, cable, etc., in a separate plastic food bag. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner. Now, it's much easier to find what I'm looking for, I never have any tangles, and life is just better all around.
Arrgggh! I just realized that I omitted a couple of items -- my Nixie tube wrist watch and my Geiger counter as shown below:
The reason I forgot these is that I don’t carry them around with me everywhere -- only when I'm traveling. The rest of the time they sit on the bookshelves in my office. The Geiger counter (a little beauty from Mazur Instruments) is merrily chirping away to itself behind me as I pen these words.
So there we are. Now you know what's in my backpack. What about you? Do you travel much lighter than me, or do you have so much "stuff" that you put me to shame? Please let me know by posting a comment below. Also, as I mentioned above, please feel free to email any pictures and descriptions of the contents of your backpack to me at email@example.com for me to use in a follow-up blog.