As a unified communications engineer who splits time between my home office, company office and my customer sites (sometimes at multiple locations in the same day) I need to carry my office with me.
For the last seven years I’ve used a Tom Bihn Empire Builder with matching Brain Cell for my laptop. It saw me through most of college, five years as a UC engineer and has traveled all over Europe and the US. It’s been attached to my hip every day for those 7 years and the thing is in fantastic shape. TB & co. make an incredible, durable product.
But things change. I carry a lot of gear and that gear is heavy. Often enough I end up doing a fair amount of walking during the day: either traveling around town, through airports, at conferences or doing site surveys for large office spaces, manufacturing plants, distribution centers and the like. The briefcase/messenger style Empire Builder is extremely functional and looks very professional, but with all that gear it was time to play nice with my shoulder & back.
I ended up with the picture to the right, a Tom Bihn Smart Alec. It’s awesome. A little smaller than the Empire Builder and smaller than I expected, but I think that was a good thing as it forced me to organize a bit better and be smart about what I pack. They have a saying at TB, “Siquid mantica non capit, domi relinquendum est.” translated to “If it doesn’t fit in your knapsack, leave it behind.” Good advice.
It has the typical Tom Bihn quality materials and construction and is extremely comfortable. The design is pretty slick too; placement and number of pockets is perfect. Check out the link above for more info.
So what do I lug around in this thing every day? I’m glad you asked. You’ll see I’ve turned into a bit of a Tom Bihn junkie. Starting at 9 o’clock on the left with the water bottle and moving clockwise:
- Starting in the left side pocket:
- Liberty Bottleworks Tom Bihn Matterhorn water bottle – replaced a slightly smaller Sigg water bottle. Although a little larger it still fits great in the side pocket.
- And there’s still room in the same side pocket for a TB Ballistic Organizer Pouch connected to the o-ring there. Size small (4th of July special edition) holding whiteboard markers… a good consultant brings their own 🙂 Disclaimer: I may like whiteboarding more than I should.
- On to the first of two sections on the main compartment:
- First another small organizer pouch connected to one of the o-rings in the main compartment holding an often used MiFi charger.
- A TB Cache holds my 15″ MBP (has an SSD so I opted for the Cache rather than the more protective Vertical Brain Cell, the space saving of the Cache vs Brain Cell comes in handy and I’m glad I waited to order until after I had my Smart Alec).
- Resting on the Cache is a TB Breve (appears to be discontinued, unfortunately) holding my iPad, iPad AV adapter, Verizon 4G MiFi and short micro USB cable to charge the MiFi from my laptop. Also tucked a few business cards and a TB Ultrasuede Screen Cloth above the zippered pockets (great way to make use of that space with some thin items you don’t need often).
- On the bag itself are my MBP power adapter and a MS Mobile Mouse 4000 (considering a switch to an Apple Magic Mouse) that go into the two zippered pockets on the main opening.
- To the right are two more TB Ballistic organizer pouches, size small. One in the main compartment holding Koss KSC75 headphones.
- On to the side compartment:
- The second small organizer pouch mentioned above is in the side compartment holding a couple USB thumb drives and a CF card reader (great for upgrading IOS and transferring files on Cisco ISR’s and VG224’s)
- Also in the side compartment: eye drops to keep the contacts lubricated during late night cutovers, mints, pens and few other odds and ends.
- Below the bag are a few more items that go in the main compartment.
- Starting on the right is a TB Snake Charmer (awesome) that holds all kinds of cables. Cat6 network cable, HDMI cable, USB extension cable, Monoprice mini DisplayPort adapters (HDMI, DVI, VGA), mini USB cable, micro USB cable, KeySpan USB Serial Adapter and a Monster Outlets To Go power strip with a USB charging port.
- Bottom middle is a TB Vertical Freudian Slip. Holds a legal pad, smaller notepad, Moleskin notebook, some pens. Still deciding if I really need this or would be better served by freeing up space in the main compartment. So far I think it’s a keeper for holding the notepads and other papers & receipts I seem to accumulate.
- Last on the bottom left are a couple items from Plantronics:
- First up is a Plantronics P420 USB speakerphone. I don’t use this one all that often, but when I do use it it’s a lifesaver. Quality on this thing is phenomenal and works great for impromptu conference calls. It’s worlds better than your cell phone’s speakerphone.
- Next is a corded headset, a Plantronics SupraPlus wideband headset with Quick Disconnect adapter. I actually prefer this model to their newer EncorePro line as the SupraPlus stays attached to my head a bit better. Along with that I have a DA45 USB adapter so I can use it with various softphones on my laptop and an AC10 adapter so I can connect it directly to the headset port on a Cisco phone.
- One item that didn’t make it into the picture as I transitioned between bags and recovered from a trip with the family this weekend was my NIV Thinline Bible. I use the Glo Bible and Logos apps on my iPad, but the hardcopy is nice to have around and great for takeoffs and landings when flying.
That doesn’t account for my toolkit bag. I try not to do a lot of cabling and tracing wires, but it does come in handy to have a punchdown tool, test set, etc. in the trunk of my car. A topic for another post…