When some friends and I were out-geeking each other by comparing backpack/briefcase contents, I realized how out-of-control my pack had gotten. After several rounds of “Oh, this is neat. I’d better put it in the pack in case I need it someday,” I had a very heavy pack.
Ironically, I’d switched from a laptop briefcase to a backpack after a friend recommended packs for posture. His argument was that carrying a heavy laptop briefcase weighed down whichever shoulder you slung the strap over, and was bad for your spine. Packs spread the weight. But now I had a pack that caused me to lean forward to stay centered, and that wacked people if I turned too quickly in a crowd.
Time to dump it out and put it on a diet. Here’s what was in the pack:
Across the top:
- Dell 600m laptop and power brick, Kennsington USB mouse.
- Notebook (for planning) and an article to read.
- Two back issues of Linux Journal.
- A Birthday card from my wife, and boarding passes from my last trip.
Next layer down:
- A Penguin Cafe Orchestra CD and a blank CD-R. (You’ve probably heard Penguin Cafe Orchestra music before, but I’ll bet you can’t place where. It’s that kind of music.)
- Business card case. (I should check to make sure the cards are current.)
- Two O’Reilly pocket reference books, one on Python, the other on CSS, and Dan Cederholm’s excellent Web Standards Solutions.
- Another notebook (for technical stuff, almost filled).
- A Cyalume light stick (in case I’m caught in a power failure in the basement of a building), throat losenges, and three power bars (so that I don’t starve when caught in the basement of the building).
Next layer down:
- Envelopes and stamps (in case there’s no network access for email when I’m caught in the basement of that building).
- An assortment of 5×7, 4×6, and 3×5 cards, blank and ruled, in various colors. (The thought of being stuck somewhere without stuff to take notes on gives me the willies.)
- A camera lense cleaning cloth (for cleaning the screen on the laptop and digital camera).
- A quadrille-ruled Moleskin notebook to take over for the previous technical notebook, which will fill up any day now.
- Salmon Jerky, from Trader Joe’s. (Protein for people who don’t eat land meat.)
- First clump: 5×7, 4×5, and 3×5 cards with notes on them. Somehow they’d escaped into the bottom of the pack.
- Next clump: Starbucks card, card key for work, two packs of breath mints, a tube of skin cream, and a lanyard from a conference.
- Next clump: Earphones for the laptop, small tripod for the camera, two packs of earplugs, a pack of bandaides, and a camera case.
- Next clump: A bag with some dead recharchable batteries, a plastic container with charged batteries, a USB cable with a secure digital card reader, a 64Mb USB key frob, and a little black fake leather thing with more memory cards in it for the camera.
- Final clump: A bag of pens and small office supplies (clips, post-its, small flashlight, more stamps, some allergy pills, tie-down straps), another USB cable, a 5′ CAT5 (in case that dark basement has an ethernet tap), 8′ of phone cable, the USB adaptor for the camera, a 2-way power extender (for sharing the single public power outlet that many airports seem to have).
- The Nikon Coolpix 3200 used to take the picture.
- A half bottle of water that’d gotten buried in the pack.
Care to guess how much this all weighed before I put the pack on a diet?
I cut about a third of the weight of the bag, mostly by putting the travel-related stuff into a box. Losing more weight would mean getting a lighter laptop, and that’s not in the budget for a while. I may switch back to a briefcase, reserving the laptop bag for travel.
The meta-problem is that I was trying to be prepared for too much at once. And I wasn’t getting unprepared (i.e., filing papers and notes) for stuff that’d already happened. Neither had been a big problem when I’d been using a soft briefcase, since it couldn’t hold as much, and there weren’t as many places for things to hide.