I can’t get no Satisfication (It’s in the Bag)

As I have observed before, I like things just so.  And I am addicted to briefcases, messenger bags, and the like.  And as I’ve (almost certainly) observed beforel, I’m going to quit buying them.


Well, at least I’m going to try.

All of this is introduction to say that I think the bag I bought almost five years ago is still the best.

I don’t know if it’s the best because it’s simple (it doesn’t have “organizer” pockets–I lamented the absence of these back when I first bought it, but now I’m glad it doesn’t have them), because it’s small (it barely holds a 12.5″ laptop, plus folders), because it’s quiet (no clips or toggles to attach the strap, and no Velcro anywhere), or just because I’ve had it so long. Maybe it’s the color (medium brown).

No matter how much I find nicer or fancier bags, I keep going back to this one.  I’ll try the others for a month or so, then it’s back to the Europa.  I like this bag.

And I think it’s taught me a lesson, or at least it will serve as an excuse for a lesson:

Don’t be afraid of change, but don’t seek it out unnecessarily.

Actually, it was my bike that taught me part of this lesson.  Back in 2012 I was riding my favorite bike when I got hit by a car and it died and I didn’t.  The frame was a 1986 (iirc) Trek 560.  I was so in love with that bike that I wanted to reproduce it, new frames like that being difficult to find.  But having a custom frame built proved to be costly, so I ended up with something quite different (details on that are elsewhere, starting here and here).

And you know what?  It’s been fine.  Change isn’t the end of the world.

But at the same time–back to the bag–change isn’t something to be sought out for its own sake.  Familiarity is also fine.  If the reason I still like this bag is because I like this bag, then there’s no reason to try to replace it in order to improve on it.

Decades ago I had a class in formal organizations at the University of Minnesota where I learned the term satisfice.  I think my relationships–to this bag and this bike–mean that I’ve finally learned to satisfice.

At least I hope so.



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A Plethora of Stuff

Child L has been seriously into photography lately, which means, of course, that she’s seriously into cameras.  I can relate.

When I was in college, my parents gave me a Rollei 35 with a lovely lens.  Not a sophisticated camera, it was a tiny, estimate-distance-focus camera.


The summer after I graduated from college, it was stolen from my apartment, along with my trusty typewriter (RIP) that I’d had since high school graduation, and some cassette tapes I had recorded.  The thieves couldn’t untangle the wires that hooked my stereo together, and entirely missed the three very nice guitars in the closet.

So it goes.

Anyway, when the insurance came through I knew that I would be getting an SLR, and that it would be made by Nikon.

This was 1981, and Nikon made at that time–

  1. The Nikon EM, an entry-level (i.e., relatively inexpensive, built with lots of plastic) but very nice automatic exposure SLR;
  2. The Nikon FM, a solidly-built-with metal, all-manual SLR;
  3. The Nikon FE, a similarly solid auto-exposure SLR;
  4. The Nikon F3, which had just come out–a professional camera for journalists.

Nikon made and sold all of these cameras for a few more years, and no others.  I bought an FM and a 50mm f/1.8 lens (which, by the way, with the assistance of 400-speed film pushed to 1600, took the B&W photo currently in this site’s header).

Nikon makes excellent cameras and lenses, no question about it.  And so Child L aspires to own one.  But which one?

Today, Nikon makes the following (mostly digital) SLR cameras:

  1. D3400 — 24mp entry DX consumer
  2. D5600 — 24mp DX mid-level consumerD7500 — 20mp
  3. DX prosumer
  4. D500 — 20mp DX proD610 — 24mp entry FX consumer
  5. D750 — 24mp FX consumer/prosumer
  6. Df — 16mp prosumer retro
  7. D850 — 45mp FX (landscape/studio)
  8. D5 — 20mp FX pro

So–twice as many (and don’t you just love the term “prosumer”?).  They also sell the “previous generation” of each of these cameras, according to my sources, so we could say that Nikon currently sells 16 SLR cameras.

This proliferation of models is not limited to cameras.  Go take a look at the site for Fender guitars, for example, and look at Telecasters.  Back in the day (long, long ago) there were maybe four models of Telecaster guitar, perhaps fewer.  Now there are over a dozen, and each comes in multiple finishes to add into that.

My Mont Blanc fountain pen was one of three or four different models, differentiated by size, when T bought it for me in late 1985.  Go take a look now.  Go on.

I honestly don’t know why this kind of differentiation is taking place.  It may be the case that consumers are now demanding increasingly specific products, or that manufacturing a wide range of products is now more doable, or that products become obsolete more quickly because they are electronically-based (though I would argue that the ability to upgrade internal software should make them more, rather than less, durable.

In any event, we are a long way from being able to have our cars in any color we want, “so long as it is black.”

As for me, I decided a few years back that I would like to have a camera with some greater capabilities than the ones built into my phone, but not much more complicated (or larger) than my lost Rollei 35.  So last year I bought a Fujifilm X10:


There was, by the way, no choice of color…


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Growth is Something That Happens When You’re Not Noticing

More than six years ago, when this blog was a matter of fits and starts–even more than it is now–I wrote about my beloved “Star Trek” guitar picks.

You see, back in the late ’70s, I was just learning to play guitar, and I wanted nothing so much as to be able to sound like Cat Stevens.

The problem was that every pick I tried made my guitar sound harsh, not lightly brushed like his.

I finally hit a solution–I thought.  Some very, very, very thin Jim Dunlop picks. The problem was that, being young and ham-handed, I shredded them.  Literally.  I went through several each week.

Then, One Day There They Were.  The Star Trek picks (see the earlier link).  I fell in love, bought a handful, and never saw them for sale anywhere any more.

So, for the nearly 40 years that I’ve been playing this guitar, I’ve used those picks almost exclusively.


I was playing my guitar today, and I realized that it had been years since I’d held a pick.

In the past six years, my playing changed from something I did with a pick to something I did exclusively with my hands; the nails and the flesh.

To be sure, I used to play that way some of the time, particularly when I finger-picked; but now, that’s the way I play exclusively.  I strum with the nails, pluck with the meats and the calluses, and that’s it.

Even while I was thinking of, and missing, those fabulous picks?  I had outgrown them.

I still don’t sound like Cat Stevens–or even Yusuf Islam.

I sound like me.


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Locomotive Breath Part II

He sees his children jumping off
At stations, one by one

–Jethro Tull

In the unlikely event that you follow this blog, you’ve seen me writing quite a bit about death lately.

This afternoon, sick with a cold, I’m just flipping through random photos on the internet when I come across one that reminds me of my father’s mother–my Baba.

And that’s when it hits you.  Perhaps it’s not children jumping off at stations; perhaps it’s our ancestors.  Our parents, their parents, their parents, and so on.

And yet, the train isn’t quite the right metaphor.  It doesn’t capture things.

Perhaps, seeing myself today as the product of one family and the producer of others, I am like the second stage of a three-stage rocket.  The first stage has fallen away; at 59, 75% of my fuel has been burned;  and now the third stage is warming up.

That’s of course not quite right either, because this rocket has an infinite number of stages; still, I can’t help but miss those that have dropped away.  And I can only hope that I will be remembered, however briefly, when it’s my turn.


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Trying to Imagine What Death is Like

I’ve been thinking about death a lot of late.  Most recently, the publicity around David Cassidy’s death has provoked me to thought because—as much as I hate to admit it—The Partridge Family was a part of my youth.

So let me start there.

When I was a kid, death was clearly not what it is for me today.  People didn’t really die.  If I saw someone get killed on a TV show, often there was a cop-out (I remember, for some reason, Batman and Robin turning bad and being machine-gunned by terrified police officers, only to discover that they had not been killed—robots had taken their place).  Checkov dies on Star Trek (“Shadow of the Gun”) but is brought back to life.

G.I. Joe could be killed in battle with dirt bombs.  But he always could be set back up.

Death was an act.

When I was in my teens, I became a bit of a Jesus Freak and, understood in that context, death was a door.  That became a little harder to grasp when my ex-girlfriend’s father died suddenly of a heart attack.  But we accepted the fiction.

When two of my best friends from high school died while I was in college, that fiction became harder and harder to maintain.

I married, and adopted new decorations for that fiction, but death remained a door, even if I was beginning to doubt.

Now, during this period I had known people who died, I had dressed corpses, and of course I had seen death on television (both real and dramatic).

The trick was, I had never seen anyone die, in person.  We insulate people in the United States, and death usually takes place a long way from us.

Death remained, in theory, a door, even if the outlines of that door were starting to evaporate into smoke.

Then, last March, I was present when my father died.

I remember.  His breaths came ever more slowly over a period of hours.  He would stop breathing for 10, 20, 40 seconds at a time.  Then he would gasp, and breathing would resume.  Then one time, he didn’t.  His skin became cold, rapidly.

And that’s when the door evaporated entirely.

I no longer think of death as a game or an act.  I no longer think of death as a door.  I believe that when you die, you’re gone.

That’s all.

So what must it be like to die?  In some ways, I look forward to the experience—except that I will not be there.  So there will be no experience.

I was nearly killed in a bike crash a long time back.  I was knocked clean out, concussed, jaw broken, and I have 10-15 minutes missing.  The only reason I know that they are missing is that I woke up while I was being put into an ambulance.  But other than that, I was riding and then things stopped.

If I had not woken up in the ambulance, that stop would have been complete.  That’s what I expect death to be like; and since I will not wake up again, there will be no way to account for, to assess, to realize that there was a stop.

That’s what I expect death to be like.

In some ways, I hope I’m wrong.  But I’m pretty sure I’m right.

And I’m pretty sure that, deep down, we all know that.


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My Bohemian Window

Bohemian Window

The summer after I graduated from college, I was independently wealthy.

It was 1981, I was 23 years old, and I held in my hand an acceptance letter from a graduate school that included free tuition and a $4,500 per year stipend.  What’s more, I had received a $1,500 prize from my college department at graduation, so I didn’t need to work, so long as I was reasonably careful with my money.

I subleased a tiny, dingy, walk-up off-campus apartment from a friend who had moved in with his girlfriend.  It was one room plus a kitchen and bath; it smelled like gas, and it leaked when it rained, and there was barely enough space for me and my guitar and my bicycle together with a couch and bed.

The building was old and tumble-down, and I felt every bit the adventurous but deeply depressed bohemian while I lived there.

One day I was browsing through a bookstore and found a colorful window sticker with a dove and a rainbow.  I bought it and stuck it to the front window of the apartment to cheer myself up.  At night, the moon or some other source of light would shine through it, and I’d sit on the ratty couch and gaze at and through that sticker as if it were magical, trying to divine my future while listening to Bonnie Raitt’s Streetlights album.

Of all of the contents of that apartment, the building itself, the street, only I and my guitar and a photograph remain.



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New Bag Time Thule Strävan, Reviewed

This blog turns out to be one of the longer-lasting ones around.  I started out (badly) in, let’s see:  Ah.  June, 2008.  Took a while to get going, posts in fits and starts, but, what the heck, I’m still here.  And if you’ve looked at this blog before, you know that I am obsessed with bags.  Well, briefcases.  Among other things.

I still have and use my trusty, debranded Manhattan Portage Europa.  It’s simple and it works well.  But I’ve had it for four years, and my life has changed a bit, and I was looking for something new and.  Well, we’ll get there.

I have had several cardinal points for bags over the years, the most important being that the strap should be sewn on.  Two reasons for this:  First, it makes the bag more secure, or at least it makes it feel more secure.  When you’re riding somewhere, you don’t want a piece of hardware to come apart on you.  I’ve had that happen, and almost dropped a rather expensive laptop that belonged to someone else.  A Close Call.  Second, it makes the bag quieter, because the hardware, metal or plastic, isn’t knocking around.

So it took a lot for me to violate that particular point when I acquired my latest bag.

Actually, it’s a bit of a compromise.

New Bag

The bag is known as a Thule Strävan 13″ Macbook bag.

The first thing I should point out is that this is a small bag.  It’s intended for 13″ and smaller notebook computers (which works well for me, because I use a 12.5″ computer, the Lenovo X240).  The second is that it appears to be out of production, but still available from Amazon and similar places.  and because it is out of production, it’s cheap (think $25, give or take).

So.  First, as to that compromise:  instead of having the strap sewn in, or having plastic or metal loops to which to clip the strap, this bag has webbing loops to which the strap clips directly.  It thus eliminates the noise of rings and clips, though some hardware remains.  The strap hardware seems very solid, however and, unlike some, it holds the strap tightly enough that things shouldn’t get twisted up.  There is a strap pad (which I removed) and two buckles to adjust the length of the strap.

Next, the Strävan has something I’d been looking for:  handles.  I’m spending way too much time in my car these days, and I needed an easy way to grab the bag until I can use the strap.  Thus, handles.  These are nice–there’s one on either side of the main compartment, they’re comfortable, and the bag feels balanced.

About that zipper–another cardinal point for me has always been to have a flap over the top of the bag, because it keeps out the weather.  I also like the way it looks.  Here, no flap, just a zipper across the top, with nice pulls.

Inside that zipper are three large, flat compartments.  First, on the front side, a nicely-lined and padded one that fits my notebook perfectly.  Second, on the back side, a smaller lined and padded pocket intended for a tablet of some kind.  I don’t use it often, but sometimes toss in my Kindle Paperwhite.  In between the two is about an inch of space, into which you can put some folders and a letter-sized writing pad.  I’m trying hard not to overstuff this, which is comparatively easy because most of what I need is on the computer.  Sometimes, you want paper, but most of the time, you’re OK.  I keep a single folder and a legal pad in there.

Oddly, the tablet pocket can be opened by a zipper running down one side of the back of the bag.  I don’t know why you’d want that, but it’s there.

The front side has a veritable plethora of pockets:  One runs parallel to the computer pocket, which means that it’s a bit smaller than that pocket, and opens with a zipper across the top front.  I use it to store a USB to MicroUSB cable and a small Claierefontaine tabbed notebook with my to-do list.  On top of that are three more pockets.  The largest of these is intended for a notebook power supply, and that’s what I use it for.  To it’s right is a pocket just a bit smaller, into which go pens, business cards, and a tin from a Well-Known Brand of herbal teas that holds some bluetooth earphones and a tiny digital audio recorder.  Each of these pockets unzips on two sides, so they’re easy to get into.

On top of the power supply pocket is a small flat zippered pocket clearly intended for a phone.  Why anyone would put their phone in that kind of pocket is beyond me.  Mine lives in my back pocket at all times.  But it’s a nice extra space to have:  I keep my blood glucose test kit and a granola bar in there.

Overall, the bag looks nice, not overly-techy, and keeps my stuff together in a small space.  The only thing I truly dislike about it (allowing that I’ve already violated my cardinal points regarding straps and flaps) is that the manufacturer’s logo/name is printed on the side in large letters–unlike the Manhattan Portage bags, you can’t remove it.

I’ve had this bag for about a month, and I’m really very pleased with it.  They also make a 15″ version, still in production, and consequently, priced significantly higher.  If you need to carry a 14″ or 15″ machine, it looks like it will do just fine (these are currently available at Staples, as well as online).

If you’re the kind of person who travels a lot with a small computer, I think this bag, particularly at its current price, is hard to beat.


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