The Home Office

Our cat Sam curls up on the couch beside my MacBook Pro, iPhone, and notebook in May 2020

I’ve been primarily a laptop user for many years now so only the details of my home office have changed, the computers getting upgraded every 3 to 5 years and notebooks being swapped out when they fill up. One of the changes I have loved is the arrival of smartphones for keeping GPS tracks of my hikes (and dog walks) that I can sync up with my pictures. I also loved the arrival of the iPad and bird books on it, as you can select your location and eliminate all the birds not likely to be seen in your area, especially useful when we moved to Arizona.

Sam is the object that has changed the least, a constant in my lap since he arrived late in 2007. Trixie arrived early in 2015, special props for stealing my seat as soon as I stood up and then curling up like she had been there for hours. At least now there aren’t as many protest squeaks when I take my seat back as there were in the early days.

Our cat Trixie curls up on the couch beside my MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and notebook in May 2020

My Porch Buddy

Our dog Ellie sleeps on the concrete beside her dog bed on our porch at our house in Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2019

We developed a ritual, the pup and I, during our year in Arizona. I’d go hiking in the morning on my days off and when I got back I’d heat up a breakfast sandwich, grab my laptop bag, and we’d go out onto the porch for a little rest & relaxation as I wrote in my hiking journal about my experiences that morning. Ellie would eagerly watch me eat as I always gave her a little bit of cheese and egg and bacon/sausage at the end. Only a sliver as her kidneys couldn’t take too much protein but she always appreciated the gesture. After she died it became hard to continue the ritual, I forced myself out onto the porch at first but it took longer before I could eat a breakfast sandwich, even now it is a little difficult sometimes. Because she was deaf in her senior years I could sometimes sneak past her when I got home from the hike so I could wake her when my hands were free and I could help her up, for I knew as soon as I started heating the sandwich she’d wake as nothing got past that nose.

Also, as you can see from this picture and the previous one, though we got her these shoes to help her get up and move about the house, the pup was pretty good about getting out of them so you’d find them scattered about the house once she woke up.


A close-up of our dog Ellie sleeping beside my Tom Bihn ID laptop bag on our porch at our new house in March 2019

I took this picture a week after we moved to the new house with the intention of it being a light-hearted post about how, like many in Arizona, my laptop bag was living a semi-retired life. I drive to work now and don’t need my laptop there so I no longer sling the bag over my shoulder each day as I used to in Portland when I walked to the train. Instead it keeps my stuff organized beside my couch during the week and on the weekends joined Ellie and I as we went out on the porch after my morning hike. The bag holds my 15″ MacBook Pro, my iPad, my hiking journal, my pens, my headphones, and some field guides as I learn about Arizona’s plants & animals. I held off on posting it, partially because I was so busy and partially because Ellie’s health was declining. Now though it’s a nice reminder of our good times together even as her time was running out.

Goodbye Portland, I Love You

The Tom Bihn ID messenger bag on a MAX train in Portland, Oregon

Leaving Portland means leaving a way of life. In our old neighborhood of Irvington I can walk to shops and restaurants. For most of our years here I’ve slung my Tom Bihn laptop bag over my shoulder and walked to the light rail station to take the train to work. I only drive about 1000 to 3000 miles a year, depending on how many long hiking trips I take, so I’ll drive as many miles on our way to Arizona as I might do in a year. It was obvious on my interview trip that life in Arizona will be centered around the car, so I’m going to have to get used to driving to work again. One of the things I’ll figure out during the year we’re renting is how long of a commute I can tolerate, which will dictate what neighborhoods we will consider when it is time to buy.

There is more about Portland I’ve loved, from its progressive ideals (if not always progressive policies) to its eccentricities, such as the day I met someone walking a pig at the dog park. Not a little pot-belled pig, a full-grown pig. People practicing Shakespeare in the park, even our little Irving park. The old neighborhoods. The light rail. The downtown. The city parks. The duck ponds with not just mallards and Canada geese but wood ducks, bufflehead, wigeon, scaup. On and on.

The ever-worsening traffic I won’t miss but we are heading to a much larger city so perhaps we will trade one type of traffic for another. Neither will I miss the ice storms, we’ll see if the misery of desert summers are a fair trade for wonder of desert winters.

It was the lure of Portland that led me to interview with the company where I worked for two decades, the loss of that job is forcing me to leave. I will always treasure our time in Portland, it’s been a wonderful place to call home. Goodbye, I love you.

The Aubergine Duo Ride Again

A side-by-side view of the Tom Bihn ID laptop bag and Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag, both in aubergine

A quick shot of my travel bags after I got back from my trip to Arizona. I meant to photograph them together while on either my trip to California or Arizona but I kept forgetting, they were stressful trips as both travels were for job interviews. The bags worked a charm, as they always have, and were both easy to carry around the airport and easy to live out of during my stay. For the photo I didn’t take out all of the little accessory bags that kept me organized. On the left is the Tom Bihn ID laptop bag that I used as my personal item, carrying my MacBook Pro and iPad, and on the right is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 which I used as my carry-on. I love not only that it has backpack straps that can pull out to make carrying the bag easy, and be put away when you don’t need them, but that the whole process can be done so quickly and easily. Both of these bags were clearly designed and manufactured with a lot of care, which is why I love my Tom Bihn bags.

Also, love that aubergine!

A Cute Couple

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag and Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag

In early August I started an 11-day trip, the longest I’ve ever taken, that included three cross-country flights (thankfully all non-stop) and a two-day drive. I started off flying to Baltimore to visit my brother’s family and help sort through my dad’s papers, then flew to Texas to help my mom finish packing for her move to Georgia where she’ll be near my sister, drove with my mom from Austin to Atlanta, then flew back home from Atlanta to Portland. I was going to constantly be on the move and didn’t want to risk lost luggage, and I also didn’t want to take up much room in the car, and I was going to be walking home from the train at the end of the trip, so I took just two bags, my Tom Bihn ID messenger bag that went under the plane seat, and my Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag that went in the overhead bin.

Inside the two bags were an array of smaller bags that kept me organized, most also from Tom Bihn. The big bags have o-rings inside for attaching key straps so my keys, a small flashlight, and a USB drive were easily found. I used one of my mesh organizer bags in the ID for cables, medicine, and food that I wanted on the flight, while the other in the Aeronaut held cables and other items I wouldn’t need until I landed. Travel stuff sacks held a raincoat (which didn’t get used) and my camera and lens (which did). My daily pills went in a clear organizer and smaller items went into the flat organizer pouches. The organizers worked well in the side pockets of the Aeronaut, making it easy to get to my 3-1-1 bag at the airport, and also provide easy access to food or medicine or cables without having to open the main compartment.

The Aeronaut I’ve used before, both while flying and driving, but it really shone on this trip. I used the backpack straps while moving through the airport, then neatly tucked them away for the plane rides and at my destination, but they were most handy when walking home from the train station. Rolling bags have their uses, but since the Aeronaut wasn’t heavy it was much nicer to just slip it onto my back. I’ve been surprised at how using the mesh packing cubes for clothes and the organizer bags for other items makes living out of a suitcase so much more enjoyable, everything stays organized and it was always easy to find what I wanted. Despite staying somewhere new about every other night, by the end of the trip everything was still in its place, which is not normal for me but will be from now on. The Aeronaut is well-built and I could have checked it if I needed to, but it was easy to carry and so easily fit in the overhead bins that it was never an issue.

The trip didn’t get off to the best start as I had a miserable headache the first morning, one of the worst in recent memory, but by evening medicine was keeping it at bay and it was never that severe again. It was a tiring but productive trip and I enjoyed getting to see most of my family, even a cousin and his son I hadn’t seen in years. Coming home I even got a cheap upgrade to first class, a welcome treat as I despise flying. While I’m never going to enjoy flying I am thankful that all the flights went off without issue, as did our drive, and I’m thankful for the little company that designs and makes the bags that I love so much (all a bit to my north in Seattle).

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag and Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag along with all the other smaller Tom Bihn bags that went inside them

The ID is Retired. Long Live the ID!

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag in Aubergine

I bought my beloved Tom Bihn ID messenger bag (which I reviewed first after eleven years and updated at twelve years) over thirteen years ago and finally decided to retire it as the strap pad was getting worn and the zipper compartment was coming apart in one section. It was my daily companion nearly every day during those thirteen years and one of the best products I’ve ever owned, in any category.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to replace (Tom Bihn no longer makes the ID) but I couldn’t find anything I liked quite as much until I saw this lovely ID in aubergine on eBay. I had never used eBay before but it all went smoothly and I’m thrilled with my new bag, new but also familiar. This ID is a newer revision than mine, it has a different strap (which I’m already familiar with since I use the same type on my Aeronaut travel bag and my tripod bag) and different pockets, but the overall design is still very similar to mine.

I used the old bag for a week after the new one arrived, partially because I hadn’t unclipped the laptop bag that fits inside and moved it to the new one, and partially because it was nice to spend one last week with the old one. But it didn’t take long to move everything to the new bag and I put it to work to get me to work last week, and I put it to work at home on Friday as I moved from my office to the guest bedroom while I kept our cat Boo company as he recuperated from getting teeth pulled.

The ID at Work at Home

The ID is a great fit for my 15″ laptop and can be expanded to carry bulkier items but can be cinched down into a flat profile while lightly loaded (my normal configuration), which I greatly appreciated while standing on crowded trains during the week. I’ve thought about getting a backpack to use at times, and might yet, but there’s no question that a thin over-the-shoulder bag is more convenient on crowded trains. I almost bought a briefcase style bag for times when I don’t need to carry bulkier items, typically the winter and summer, and if I move to a smaller laptop I’d probably also move to a smaller bag, but for now I’m all set. And happy. Thanks Tom Bihn!

Aubergine & Black

The ID at Twelve (and a Half)

[Update February 10, 2017: I retired this ID after thirteen years and replaced it with a newer one.]

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag with some of its accessories

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag has been in daily use for twelve (and a half) years now. I first wrote about it in my eleven year review and it is still the bag I use every day. I’ve added a few accessories, most importantly a 16″ Tom Bihn key strap with a Fenix E12 flashlight attached at the end. It’s not so much for me to see as for me to be seen as I’m walking on my commute, either to or from the train when I take the MAX or in a dark parking lot on days I drive. The red color of the strap makes it easy to see in the bag, which is not true for the flashlight which sadly only comes in black. Because the strap is near the side of the bag, while walking I can reach behind me and under the flap and grab the strap without breaking my stride, enabling me to pull the flashlight out without stopping or even moving the bag around to my front. It’s also nice that the light can hang from the strap if I need to adjust my gloves or use the phone.

I also added a new Brain Cell that is perfectly sized for my 15″ MacBook Pro and an Aubergine Side Effect (with a safety whistle attached in the picture) which fits in the front of the ID and adds more organization. I’m still deciding exactly what to keep in the smaller bag, or if I’d rather leave it in my backpack instead. I put a USB stick on another key strap, I don’t need one very often, but this way I always know I have one and can get to it quickly. I also have an iPad now which makes taking the train much more pleasant, and it can go in several different places. I usually place it beside the Brain Cell in the laptop compartment where it’s pretty secure, but it can also go more loosely in the front compartment or in the magazine pocket on the back of the bag (it can be stowed very quickly there, a convenience if I’m a little late in realizing my stop is coming up).

I have gone back to riding the train most days which puts a lot more stress on the bag than when I drive, as it is under load during the time I’m walking to and from the train and when I’m standing because there isn’t a seat available. But the train commute really highlights why I’ve so loved this bag. It’s wide enough for my 15″ laptop and deep enough to carry the things I take everyday with room left over for the occasional bulky items, but not so large as to get in the way on the train or encourage over-stuffing (I don’t like backpacks on the train but in my opinion they are the only good solution for heavy loads). The front strap keeps the bag cinched down in a narrow profile but can be expanded so I can stuff a hoody or jacket in the bag during the spring and fall days when the temperature is changing drastically during the day.

After all these years the ID is gently preparing me for the day that our time together draws to a close. The back zippered compartment where the laptop goes in particular is having issues as some of the stitching is coming out or fraying from the velcro of the Brain Cell when it’s left open. Then one day while in a hurry I tried to zip the compartment closed too quickly (the new Brain Cell sits a little differently that the old one) and one of the zippers popped off one of the tracks. The other zipper still works fine but it keeps me from just zipping both ends a bit, a little trick to quickly force both ends to tuck in well below the flap for extra protection in a heavy rain. The pad on the shoulder strap is also showing wear from heavy use. In general though the bag is in great shape so it will hopefully last me for a while yet.

I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s time to retire the bag from every day use, as the ID has been discontinued and Tom Bihn hasn’t announced a replacement. And even when they do, since the ID has been such a perfect fit for me, no matter how nice the new design is I doubt it could delight me quite as much as the ID.

Trixie Demonstrates the Use of a Flashlight

I’ve been meaning to post this update for a while but resisted for one simple reason — when I’d set up to photograph an item before, our cat Emma (who hated to be photographed) would come over and photobomb the pictures (she’s the black cat in the pictures in the eleven year review). She died a few months after that review and for a while it was too painful a reminder to set up the bag for a picture and know that Emma wasn’t going to come running over to sit nearby.

So it delighted me to no end when I set up the ID for a quick picture and Trixie came over and started chewing on the key strap that holds the flashlight. Professor Boo then came over and showed his young charge how you can retrieve the flashlight by pulling on the strap, while gently telling her not to be embarrassed, we all have to learn not to eat flashlights. I don’t know what triggered them to come over as they’re both very familiar with the bag — in fact it was one of the first things they each saw when we adopted them, Boo in 2013 and Trixie in 2015, as I brought it with me when I sat with them while they were in isolation — but it was a nice little homage to our dear departed Em.

Professor Boo Demonstrates the Proper Use of a Flashlight

The ID is within arms reach of nearly every picture I post unless I’m out hiking or taking Ellie on a walk. It’s at my feet when I’m on the couch taking pictures of the pets sleeping on me and I bring it with me when we need to keep one of the pets in isolation (as with Sam below when he was recuperating after getting teeth pulled). At Ridgefield it’s tucked in behind the driver’s seat as I photograph the animals on the auto tour. It’s gone with me on all my hiking expeditions to Yellowstone and Mount Rainier and the like, but it stays in the hotel room while I hike. It goes with me to work every day and is sitting beside me now on the train.

I’m a little shy of fifty so I’ve been using the ID for over one out of every four days I’ve walked the earth. It’s one of the best products I’ve ever purchased, in any category, so its replacement will have big shoes to fill. Many, many thanks to the team at Tom Bihn for both designing and manufacturing such a great bag.

Me & Samwise

The Tom Bihn ID: An 11-Year Review

[Update March 26, 2016: I posted a follow-up to this review, with my ID now at twelve (and a half) and still my daily bag.]

[Update February 10, 2017: I retired this ID after thirteen years and replaced it with a newer one.]

My Steadfast Companion

Is there much point to reviewing an 11-year old bag, especially one that has been updated and improved since I bought it? Perhaps not, but this is as much a love letter to the company that made it — Tom Bihn — as it is a review of my ID messenger bag. After being exposed to cheap laptop bags from local stores and the Willy Loman bags that are the bane of the corporate world, the ID was a revelation.

We moved to Portland in 2002 from further south in Oregon and I traded a long car commute for walking and a ride on the light rail. To be more productive on the train, I bought my first laptop, a 12″ iBook, and carried it in a laptop backpack we picked up from an office supply store. I was shocked at how quickly the backpack fell apart. So when I upgraded to a 12″ Powerbook in November of 2003, I decided to get a better bag as well. I wanted to try a messenger bag for the crowded train as I had been witness (and victim) too many times to the horrors of inadvertent backpack whackage from one rider to another.

I didn’t want a heavy bag since all of the weight would be on one shoulder, but it needed to be big enough to store a fleece and a raincoat for the variable spring and fall weather. My search led me to the Tom Bihn ID. At the time I was a bit nervous at the cost, $85 for the ID itself and $50 for the Brain Cell laptop case that attaches inside it, as it was more than I had ever spent on a bag (today the ID sells for $160, the Brain Cell $65). But it seemed like a great bag from a great company so I ordered the ID in Black/Crimson/Steel, hoping it would last me a few years.

A few years turned into eleven.

Little Touches

While I’ve been driving to work the past few years, most of my time with the bag has been spent walking or on the train. It’s about a 20 minute walk home from the train station and, living in Portland, I’ve been rained on countless times, from light drizzles to out-and-out downpours. Snowed on a few times. One day I even trudged home in a freezing rain, finally arriving home to find the bag completely encased in a thin sheet of ice. But nothing has ever gotten wet.

Brains! Brains!

The main reason I settled on the ID as my messenger bag is that you can attach a Brain Cell inside to hold a laptop. The Brain Cell has corrugated plastic providing protection on the sides but more importantly suspends the laptop so it doesn’t touch the ground when you set the bag down. The Brain Cell itself is suspended in the ID, so my laptops have always been nicely protected even though they go out and about every day. My first Brain Cell was sized specifically for my 12″ Powerbook, but six months later I replaced it with a larger one when I upgraded to a 15″ Powerbook, and that Brain Cell has held all my laptops since.


For nearly every day I’ve owned the ID, I’ve kept the Brain Cell attached in the main compartment to hold my laptop, as transporting my laptop is primarily how I use the bag. However the Brain Cell is removable as shown here, and I do use it this way occasionally to transport bulkier items. That’s our cat Emma beside the bag. She hates it when I try to take her picture but photobombs every picture she can. She’s a complicated girl, our sweet Em.

The bag has a few scars after its years of loyal service. There are a couple of scuff marks near the bottom of the bag. The thickly padded shoulder strap makes for comfortable carrying but the underside of the pad is flaking off after a decade of heavy use. But I thought the ID might be on its last legs late last year when the stitching around the rear zipper started coming apart in a few places. I rely on that zipper to pull in the corners of the laptop pocket and keep them safely under the outer flap when it rains (a feature I wish all messenger bags would adopt). Thankfully my wife was able to fix those sections but all she had was white thread, which you can see on the back left corner. I consider it a badge of honor.

The Thin Bag

One of the things I love about the ID is the buckle & strap on the front that cinches the bag down into a thin profile when it isn’t heavily loaded, but quickly allows the bag to expand to hold coats and the like. One of the prongs on the big buckle broke a few years ago, and although it still closed securely I did replace it recently with a new one I ordered from the factory, just in case the other prong ever broke.

There are so many nice touches in the bag, I could go on and on, such as the o-rings for attaching key straps, the zippered front pocket for securing small items, the comfortable grab handle, the water-resistant zipper on the exposed pocket on the main flap. Newer bags also get an iPhone pocket, but I can’t hold it against mine for not having one, as back then there were no iPhones.

The one thing I haven’t used much is the water bottle pocket in front, it’s a little too small and short for many of my bottles, but this has been addressed in newer designs by moving the pocket outside the main body of the bag. The lines of the bag aren’t as clean but I think this is a much better place for it.


My biggest complaint is not with the bag but with me. Tom Bihn makes an assortment of small bags and organizers that clip to the o-rings inside the bag which would have come in handy for train and air travel, but I never availed myself of them. Better late than never, I recently ordered several bags (with Emma still hanging around for pictures). Going clockwise from the upper left we have a Storm 3D Clear Organizer Cube with an 8″ Olive Key Strap attached, an Aubergine/Wasabi Side Effect, a red Lifefactory 22oz glass water bottle, blue & red Op Tech Strapeez cable ties, a Forest Clear Organizer Wallet, an Ultraviolet Travel Stuff Sack (size 1), an Iberian Travel Stuff Sack (size 2), and a Turquoise Double Organizer Pouch (medium).

Tom Bihn designs and manufactures a variety of bags a bit to my north in Seattle, all with the same quality and thoughtfulness that went into the ID (I’ll soon be ordering a backpack and later a travel bag). So if you find one you like, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

They’re the best.