Get happier with a Moleskine

In his book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal Ben-Shahar writes:

In research done by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, those who kept a daily gratitude journal — writing down at least five things for which they were grateful — enjoyed higher levels of emotional and physical well-being.

Last year I developed a strong urge to get a Moleskine softcover 18-month planner, mostly because I couldn’t – they were all sold out. This year I found one in July at a bookstore, and it is more or less perfect for this, although there’s room for just about 5 items, but not much explanation unless you use the notes page for each week. Still, a nice use for a nice notebook!

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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