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A Case Of Love

You know you have a great piece of luggage when the TSA guy rooting through it at the security checkpoint asks where he can get one.

As it turns out, we have four great pieces of luggage, all from Briggs & Riley.  I’d never heard of them either, at least not before walking into a luggage store this past October.  However, if you’re someone who travels a lot, or even someone who appreciates real quality in a product, then you need to hear about Briggs & Riley.

Let me start off with the coolest part: their lifetime unconditional repair guarantee.  If your luggage breaks or is otherwise damaged for any reason whatsoever, including damage caused by airline handling, Briggs & Riley will fix it for free.  Why?  Because they use that failure information to improve future models.  They take the cost of fixing a sold product as an investment in real-world research.  That’s smart, and had me ready to like them from the start.

That said, I shudder to imagine the forces that could damage one of these cases enough to require repair.  They’re tough, solid bags.  They cost quite a bit more than the stuff you can get on sale at Target or Kauffman’s, but they’re worth it.  They’d be worth it even if the warranty was time-limited.

For checked bags, we got two expandable cases.  These have two heavy-duty expansion rails on the inside of the case which can increase its depth by almost 20%.  They’re two-position mechanisms that lock into place, so you don’t have to worry about the suitcase self-expanding or -compressing.  On the flip side, the rails that contain the pull handle, the one that slides up or down, are on the outside of the case.  That gives you more interior room.  They’ve also got serious rubber tires, not cheap plastic rollers.  Like I said, these are solid cases.

They’re also exceptionally well thought-out.  Every detail quietly announces attention to and consideration for the end-user.  The piece that really sold me is the Executive Traveler.  It has three compartments: one for suits, complete with a hang-bag; a slightly deeper clothing compartment; and sandwiched between them, a slot for the laptop briefcase that comes with the bag.  On the outside are two zippered compartments with a lot of pockets, and on the other side, between the handle rails, is a zippered pocket that would easily accept a bottle of water, if you could bring that sort of incredibly dangerous substance through security these days.  Not to worry: it makes a fantastic place to put a book, an iPod, and some compact headphones.

The Executive Traveler is sized to be carry-on luggage, and has enough space for a five-day trip with a suit or two, if you’re efficient with your packing and don’t take along a second pair of shoes.  (If you do pack a pair, then you can probably still get three days of clothes in there, including suit.)  What else?

  • Inside one of the outer zippered compartments, there’s a heavy metal clip on the end of an elastic strap, which is perfect for clipping on your car keys for easy access when you get back home.

  • At the center of one edge, there’s a zippered compartment built into the case that has an intense orange interior.  It’s meant for travel documents, and it’s bigger than it first seems.  It can take a collection of passports and boarding passes, keeping them right where they’re easy to slip out and back in.  The orange interior provides contrast when you’re rooting around in there, and it also makes it really obvious when you’ve forgotten to zip it shut.

  • There are bunches of elastic straps in the clothing compartments to keep things in place.  For the center briefcase compartment, there are elastic stretching membranes that let you open it pretty wide while holding things together.

  • It comes with a hangable compact toiletry kit that holds more than it seems like it should.

  • Any place there’s a snap, one half of the snap is mounted on a loop of fabric and the other half is mounted on a small tongue of fabric.  This lets you slide your finger through the loop, put your thumb over the tongue, and press the two together.  Snap!

And then there’s the computer briefcase, which is good enough to have become my default.  It’s wide enough to accept a 17″ laptop, with a padded interior on the laptop compartment.  It’s slim, with leather handles that can be pushed in so they’re flush with the case sides.  There are a goodly number of pockets and so on in the front compartment.  It also has a flap on the back with an open top and a zipper across the bottom.  If you zip it shut, it’s an extra exterior pocket.  If you open the zipper, the whole thing slips over the retractable handles on the main case—or any Briggs & Riley case’s handles.

Here’s the kicker: remember the padded laptop compartment?  The padding is a little bit wooly, in a way; not scratchy, but a little fuzzy.  The case comes with two small padded brackets that go around the edges of the laptop.  Good enough, right?  Oh no.  It gets better.  These brackets have Velcro on their exteriors, so they grab onto the compartment’s padding and don’t let go.  They become static, padded holders for the laptop—and thanks to their Velcro, you can reposition them if you change laptop sizes.  For extra bonus points, when positioned to hold my 15″ Mac to one side of the compartment, there’s just enough space left over to hold a regular-size mouse, a small digital camera, or any number of other goodies.

You’d think it would be really hard to get them in, and you’d be right, except Briggs & Riley ships them with heavy cardstock sleeves.  You put the sleeves over the brackets, place the brackets where you want them without any trouble, and slip out the sleeves.  The compartment sides press against the brackets, the Velcro latches onto the padding, and you’re done.  Sheer genius.

This might seem like a bit too much love for a travel case, but trust me, it’s just the start.  I could go on at least twice as long.  Frequent travelers already know why I’m so over the moon about these suitcases, and are probably wondering where they can get their own.  Even infrequent travelers should bear Briggs & Riley in mind the next time they’re in the market for luggage.  The high quality and lifetime unconditional warranty make them more than a worthwhile investment, and they’re sturdy enough that you don’t have to be too concerned about the fate of your stuff.  I mean, sure, you still have to worry about TSA folks opening your luggage, but with these cases, at least you know they’ll be impressed when they do so.

London Trod

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions for something to do on a Saturday in London.  There were far too many good choices, as one expects in a millenia-old city.  I found the prospect of the Tate Modern to be very, very tempting, but as it turned out I crashed hard and slept very late that morning, so I didn’t feel like I could really do the Tate justice.

So instead I decided to walk south and pay a visit to the person who’d pleaded for CSS help in the comments, since their offices were only five minutes’ walk from my hotel and on my way to other points of interest.  You might wonder why I would do that, why I would in effect work, when I had only one day in London, but you know what?  London’s been there a long time, and will most likely continue to be there a long time.  I could never see all of it, not even if I were to move there.  Helping others out is something immediate, vital, and it’s something I like to do when possible.  I was there, he was very close by, and so why not?

As it turned out, he didn’t actually have a CSS problem, but we had a lovely lunch at a gourmet burger place right across the street from St. Paul’s Cathedral.  That didn’t seem weird or anything.

From there, I crossed the Thames at the Farringdon/New Bridge/Blackfriars bridge, and made my way along the south bank to the Westminster Bridge.  In the broken late afternoon sun, I took in living statues and the Eye, a combination which seems far more Tolkienesque than is really necessary.  Perhaps fittingly, there was also a book fair beneath Waterloo Bridge, albeit one I regretfully did not peruse—I was afraid I’d be there until the next morning.  Once I reached Westminster Bridge, I cut inward to check out the Imperial War Museum—what can I say?  I’m a history geek, which you might have guessed from the fact that it was my major field of study in college.  I’d also given thought to seeing the Cabinet War Rooms, but again, time was short.  I spent a couple of hours wandering randomly through the nooks and crannies of the IWM, and then skedaddled out of there to catch a train to the BBC Backstage Bash.  It was loud, it was fun, I traded conference organizer war stories with Patrick Griffiths and got into a short conversation about nihilism with a lovely young lady, and I met more people than I can remember but not nearly as many people as I’d have liked.  A whole kettle of thanks to Ian Forrester and the BBC crew for inviting me to such a great party.

If you’re interested in a short visual record of the day, you can see my photos from the War Museum, two pictures from the Bash, or just the whole general collection of all London photos I’ve Flickred.  Thanks again for all the suggestions!

London Fogged

So I’m here in London, midway through a two-day workshop on CSS and XHTML.  I’ll be doing that all day Friday, collapsing into a coma, and then rocking out at the BBC Backstage bash on Saturday night before boarding a flight for America on Sunday.

That leaves me all day Saturday in London to do… something.  Anyone have any good suggestions?  In a past visit, I’ve seen St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament from the outside; ridden a double-decker; and wandered a few of the parks; but beyond that London’s a pretty well unknown realm to me.  I’m up for a last-minute group gathering or just pointers on what a tenderfoot ought to make sure he does before setting off again.  What say you, gentle readers?

Left Behind

As I ambled up Concourse C this afternoon, I spotted someone who looked an awful lot like Dennis Kucinich coming the other way.  I thought for a moment about stopping him for a bit of congratulatory chat—he’s pretty far to the left of even me, but I admire his staunch refusal to compromise his principles no matter how unpopular they may be—but he didn’t have a welcoming air about him.  Maybe he was having an off day, or maybe he’s always like that, but I figured a politician would always be open to meeting “the public”.  It seemed like something that would go with the career choice, but perhaps not.

About ten minutes after I saw him, there was an announcement over the public address system calling for Dennis Kucinich to return to gate C-24 for a lost item.

So I guess that even if he wasn’t having an off day when I saw him, he did later.  Based on where I saw him and the timing of the announcement, he was very likely beyond the secure area when it was made.  I’m not sure it’s possible to get through security on a used ticket; it seems like too much of a security risk to do so.  Then again, how would we know?

I wonder what it was he left on the plane.  (Let the political jokes take flight!)

P.S.  “Search all bags for liquids etc. at the gate” has become “search the bags of occasional random passengers at the gate”, at least in Cleveland.  So either the rules are already relaxing, or they’re still firming up.  I kind of hope it’s the latter, though neither one really appeals.

Insecurities

Last night, I returned from a week in Ojai, CA.  The rules for my return were just a touch different than when I left.

For a moment on Thursday, I was seriously concerned, because the news reports made it seem like no books, iPods, laptops, or other time-fillers would be allowed on any flights in the U.S., and I was facing a flight home of four or more hours.  Even worse, that meant I’d have to send my laptop through the baggage handling system.  I was frankly far more concerned at the potential for damage or loss there than I was over the possibility that someone might blow up my plane.

Fortunately, things settled down and the truth emerged: no gels, liquids, or creams.  Everything else is still permitted.

Although this isn’t true if you’re flying from the U.K. to the U.S.  I was planning to be in London this November, but faced with the prospect of eight hours in a metal tube with nothing but the in-flight movies to occupy my attention, I’m starting to reconsider.  I mean, come on: for my flight out to LAX, the movie was direct-to-video Dr. Dolittle 3.  In comparison, their showing She’s the Man on the return flight almost seemed like a blessing.  At least it was based on Shakespeare.

So anyway, the new security rules do actually improve a couple of things.  For one, getting through the security checkpoint at LAX (terminal 6) in the middle of a Friday afternoon was a breeze, because the most anyone had was a briefcase, so there was a lot less struggling with bags and such.  Also, the sudden lack of competition for overhead luggage space meant that boarding was quite smooth, with few if any aisle backups.

The downside, though, is that there is a final complete search of travelers’ bags at the gate (at least in LAX), and that part needs a lot of work.  Instead of feeding people through the screening by rows, the way planes are usually boarded, they just told everyone to line up for screening.  But they weren’t actually ready to let anyone on the plane, so the screening area was immediately clogged with already-screened passengers (with no real tracking of who’d actually been screened), which brought everything to a halt.  It was a good ten minutes before the plane was open for boarding and the process unclogged.

Don’t get me wrong: if you’re going to search everyone for gels and such, doing it at the gate makes a lot more sense than doing it at the main security checkpoint.  All I’m saying is that it needs to be done with a little bit of thought.  As it was, the screening process at my gate was marginally less organized than an Easter Egg hunt conducted by a crowd of severely ADHD pre-schoolers.  It’d be nice to see that improved before I get back on a plane. (That would be tomorrow, as it happens, so I’m not terribly hopeful.)

All this leaves aside the basic lack of common sense the whole situation evinces.  Even if there were no more airport security than existed on 10 September 2001, the odds of my dying on a plane, whether by accident or design, would be several orders of magnitude smaller than the chances I’ll be killed driving to the airport.  (This was triply true in my case, as I had to drive from outside Los Angeles to LAX in the middle of the day.)  With the security that existed before this past week, my survival odds on the plane were greater still.  I’m not saying we should just take away all the security, but personally, since Thursday I thought of at least two ways to take down a plane that the current system would be highly unlikely to catch.

At least, I think that’s so.  It’s hard to be sure, because airport security is like the ultimate closed-source application.  I can’t just say, “Hey, here’s a way to get a bomb past airport security using a medium-size ball of twine and 17 Hello Kitty stickers; how can we address this?” because then maybe I’ve given an idea to the Bad Guys, as though the Bad Guys haven’t been thinking about this a lot longer and harder than I have.  The black hats know all about the system’s weaknesses, but we common users have no way to check for bugs without being hauled off to jail—or, if we simply speculate aloud on possible weaknesses and ways to patch them, get accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, whatever the hell that means.  (Oh, that’s right: it means doing anything the current administration doesn’t like, including criticism of their decisions and actions.  Sorry, I just forgot for a moment.)

Anyway, ze frank and New Scientist said it better than I can, so I’ll just shut up now and let you check them out.  Just make sure neither has any liquids or gels on them.

Shirty!

While in Chicago, we went for lunch at Navy Pier.  What can I say?  We were tourists.  As we were lead to our table, one of the waiters stopped me and said, “I love your shirt!”  It was my microformats icon shirt, and it turned out he had no idea what it was.  He just liked it.

A couple of days later, as we were passing through security at the base of the Sears Tower— Carolyn’s pick for what to do that morning— one of the guards burst out laughing and, pointing to my shirt, said “That’s right on, man!  I heard that!”  The source of his mirth was my ALA “Please code responsibly” T-shirt, the one with the car-off-a-dock icon on the front.

It’s literally been years since I had a random stranger comment on a shirt I was wearing.  Is there something about Chicagoans that they’re more conscious of other people’s shirts?

IceWeb on Ice

IceWeb 2006 wrapped up today (that is, Friday), and I’m deeply honored to have been a part of it.  The attendees were just wonderful, there were great speakers all around, and I was as impressed as everyone else by Joe Clark‘s Icelandic benediction at the beginning of his talk.

In general, it’s been an amazing trip.  In some ways, though, the highlight came before I even set foot on Icelandic soil.  On the way over, the Aurora Borealis was visible out my plane window.  With a touch of desperate improvisation, I managed to coax some half-decent shots of the lights (and the wing of our plane) from my battered PowerShot S45.  You can see them up on Flickr, along with a few of the better shots from our Wednesday trip through the Icelandic countryside (in the general photostream).  The actual aurorae were nowhere near as green to the eye as what’s seen in the photos, but more of a silver-blue phosphorescence with maybe a little tiny hint of green.  It was hard to judge, looking through a plastic airplane window while trying to block out cabin light enough to see them.

That’s not to minimize the beauty of this country, however.  There is a bleak and wild character that’s hard for me to resist, even as I know I’d never survive the dark of deepest winter here.  Much as I love landscapes, and Iceland has those in spades, the people are the best part: friendly and accepting in a way that’s still proud and reserved.  It’s hard to explain.  Moreover, they do know how to party.

My deepest thanks to all our hosts for letting me be a part of IceWeb, and I hope I get to return some time in the future.  Takk!

Southwest Twice

So tomorrow I head out to SXSW along with most of the rest of the industry, just like everybody else.  There are, as usual, about two dozen sessions I want to see, all of which conflict with each other.  I’ll be on three panels, two Sunday and one Monday (as listed over at Complex Spiral), and will be doing book signings on Sunday around lunch time.  There will be a bookstore there, but if you already have a book of mine, bring that too.

Only a few days after I return from SXSW, I’ll be shipping out again for MIX06 in Las Vegas.  They’ve been running a “Remix MIX” design competition in the spirit of the CSS Zen Garden, and I’ve consented to be one of the judges.  I’m actually looking forward to MIX for a whole bunch of reasons, but at the top of the heap has to be a chance to try out IE7 and talk to the team members in person.  That’s three-quarters of the reason I’m going.  Also, I’m curious about Microsoft’s “Atlas” framework for AJAX development, but that’s more of a bonus reason.

Besides, if you look deeply enough, you discover there are really only two “scenarios” (a.k.a. tracks) at the conference:

  • Next Generation Browsing Experience
  • Beyond the Browser

Yeah, I think I’d like to know what they’re thinking.  So off to Vegas I go, once I’m back from Texas.

Yee haw.

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