every now and then, I like to cover some technology gadgets here, especially when I’m genuinely delighted with them. for instance, a while back, I wrote about the Bose QC 35 wireless headphones (and how I stubbornly resisted them for so long, despite spending countless days flying - thanks, Gaweł!). as you’re well aware, I frequently delve into topics related to FreeBSD, along with some of our very own Cisco products and technologies ;)
however, the reason behind this post stems from the realization that, once we’re able to resume our travels, us technology geeks just can’t resist bringing our favorite gadgets along. sure, carrying a backpack might not seem very “executive,” but if you know me even a little, you’re aware of how little I care about titles or appearances. what’s more important is that I’ve always valued physical work. so, after enduring endless hours of meetings, presentations, and conquering the world through spreadsheets, I relish the opportunity to immerse myself in some good old-fashioned “hacking,” be it small-scale or on a grander scale.
you wear your backpack daily
over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of using some excellent backpacks made by the Swiss company Wenger. I can’t complain about them at all—they not only look great but are often sought after as swag adorned with various vendor names and logos. unfortunately, as I discovered over time, they tended to wear out after a year or two, particularly in two critical areas—the bottom and the upper handle. the frayed fabric strands were far from aesthetically pleasing, even for someone like me who isn’t overly concerned with physical appearances.
during one of my trips to the US, I made the decision to invest in a backpack that came highly recommended on numerous travel forums. the backpack was from Tom Bihn, a company founded by Tom, a pilot whose frustration with the options available on the market led him to create durable backpacks and bags. Since shipping to Europe was exorbitant, I took the opportunity while in the US to order the backpack and have it delivered to my hotel room. the photo accompanying this post was actually taken in that very hotel room, capturing my backpack in its pristine state, just a couple of hours after its purchase. It’s called the Brain Bag, and you can find a review video of it here and here.
what geek has in his backpack?
I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared and not rely on others to get the job done. with 21 years of traveling all around the world and engaging in various activities, including speaking at conferences, I’ve gained some “wisdom”. not to mention the time spent in different colocation facilities.
first and foremost, there’s the laptop. back when I worked as a presales engineer, I sometimes traveled with two or even three laptops, but those days are behind me now.
bext, there’s the power brick for the laptop. the one used for charging is usually located in the main compartment. additionally, I always carry two or three extra universal USB-A/USB-C power supplies. thanks to standardization efforts by the EU, it’s becoming easier to keep all of my equipment charged (except for some interesting ideas from Apple and Gartner with their watches).
I have a separate pouch dedicated to cables and those extra power supplies.
then comes the universe of converters. Ever since I switched to a MacBook with USB-C as my primary platform, I always have at least two different USB-C to HDMI/USB-A/SD converters, along with a dedicated converter for VGA and HDMI. I also carry a USB-C to Ethernet converter, just in case (colocation facilities rarely offer WiFi!). and of course, being an iPhone user, I have a bunch of USB-A/C/Lightning cables of varying lengths. I highly recommend Anker products.
since I often do presentations, a laser pointer is a must. I’ve become loyal to Logitech. while there are cheaper laser pointers available, trust me when I say that if you travel frequently and give multiple presentations a day, going cheap will cost you. at Cisco Poland, we’ve somewhat standardized around Logitech pointers, and after big events like Cisco Forum, people often ended up with mixed or missing ones. ah, the old days.
another useful gadget to have are markers for whiteboards. while you can typically find a whiteboard during customer meetings, the existing markers are often dry or barely visible, and invisible or barely visible drawings just don’t cut it. I use and highly recommend Staedtler markers. additionally, I always have a roll of insulating tape with me, both in black and another color. you know, for things like temporarily marking equipment, securing cables, or providing isolation.
in the front-end pouch, I keep my multi-tool. I use a Leatherman (it was a gift), and there’s also a dedicated folding knife made by Zero Tolerance (another gift, by the way). the knife comes in handy for serious cable work, and if you’ve been trained properly (I can’t stress this enough!), it can also serve as a useful self-defense tool.
next to it (or on the opposite side), there’s one or two power banks. with the newer ones having USB-C charging capabilities, they can also be used to charge your laptop on the go. they are also invaluable when traveling with kids and their phones and tablets. again, I highly recommend Anker and strongly advise against using “noname” or knock-offs of popular brands. nothing ruins a day (or night) like being let down by a faulty battery or having to evacuate a hotel in the middle of the night.
the next significant item that goes into the main compartment is a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I still use Bose, but now I have the newer model - QC700. While they somehow can’t seem to make proper external speakers, they do produce excellent noise-canceling headphones. Recently, I also tried the Sony WH-1000MX4 for a while, and I can highly recommend them too. They seem to offer slightly better sound quality when listening to music, but that could just be my personal preference.
for my Brain Bag, I also have a separate dedicated pouch for my iPad Pro. It’s much better to have something to cover it than leaving it unprotected.
then, there’s a separate small bag for my external mouse and USB-C hard disk drive, which holds my most important files and serves as a backup for my Mac. Of course, I also carry a bunch of USB keys for various use cases. if you’re looking for specific brands, I’ve found Sandisk to be very reliable, although a bit slow. I recommend using Corsair, Transcend and Samsung, and surprisingly, Samsung, which also produces high-quality ones. on the USB keys, I use an app called Ventoy, which allows me to boot from them and use existing ISO files to run different operating systems and tools. With a collection of 128/256/512GB USB keys, you can set up offline environments, restore VM snapshots, or even rebuild an entire data center from scratch in case of a catastrophic event like a ransomware attack.
it may seem like a lot, and you’re right, but I’ve grown accustomed to it over the years. The truth is, I drive or fly much more often than I walk, so it’s not a significant burden. The fact is, the backpack’s capacity, versatility, strength, and durability are simply impressive.
in the opening photo of this post, you can see the exact backpack I mentioned above, containing everything I’ve listed, along with a couple of physical hardback books, some company gadgets, and presents from dad’s trip to the US (still in their original packaging!).
of course, depending on the type of trip, the contents of my backpack may vary. for example, sometimes there are screwdrivers there (well, to my great suprise I managed twice to smuggle 15cm Philips screwdrivers to UK - this should tell you something about security screening on airports…) but also patchcords, plastic bands, SFP modules… stuff. for family trips, I usually bring along my mobile hotspot, the Netgear M1. it has the ability to connect an external antenna, which works wonders in isolated places, such as the mountains.
so, that’s all?
yep. I can really highly recommend Tom Bihn products, and Brain Bag backpack in particular :)