Hard Sided Spinner Luggage – Victorinox Spectra 2.0

I bet you were asking yourself, Gee Omar, when are you going to write about luggage and suitcases? Hmm, well maybe you didn’t. But anyway, we are now venturing into the world of bags and luggage, a favorite topic of mine.

I’m a big fan of quality products (I’m guessing you know this). When I travel I like to be a ninja. Prepared for the horrors of what is now air travel, with the right equipment to guide my family and its belongings to any destination. Luggage is a critical factor in ensuring your stuff arrives, is under the 50lbs airline limit per bag, and is easy to maneuver.

In 2000 we saw the advent of “spinner” hard sided luggage. You’ll recognize these bags as the plastic (polycarbonate) sometimes “shiny” bags that you see people pushing around at the airport (these bags are pretty popular with our friends across the Pacific Ocean).

The father of the polycarbonate bag is Rimowa, a german luxury luggage company. If money is no object, stop reading this post and just go get some Rimowa bags. But if $800 or more for a single bag sounds like a lot, keep reading.

In the quest for some new luggage to replace our 15 year old Tumi ballistic nylon bags (that weigh a lot with nothing in them) I looked at and evaluated a number of options. What I found was that the best value for the money (across features, quality, warranty, and convenience) were the Spectra 2.0 bags made by the Swiss company, Victorinox.

Also, the thing that really set me off to get these was our experience on a recent trip to Hawaii. We happened to land in what felt like a Monsoon. Our then nylon luggage was soaked when retrieved from baggage claim. Eeew.

What is it?

Victorinox Spectra 2.0 bags are “matte” polycarbonate spinners. That means they have 4 wheels which makes them rather effortless to push through the airport.

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They are ultra light, non glossy (so they don’t get all scuffed up and ugly), and the “perfect size”. What does that even mean? Well with the 29 inch bag, it’s actually quite hard to exceed the 50lbs weight limit in the US. This is important. I’d personally rather travel with more bags that are manageable to push around and carry than “monster” bags that end up weighing more than I care to lift and manage.

The Spectra 29 Large Travel Case can be purchased at a number of retail stores for $379.00. I purchased one from Amazon and one from Zappos, for the same price. You can also find them in shopping malls that have a Victorinox store.

They come in many colors. We have black and red. The red looks more scuffed up for obvious reasons.

Why did you get it?

To summarize:

  • Wanted to consolidate to a single model of luggage for the whole family
  • Wanted spinners
  • Wanted light weight bag (the Spectra 29 is 8.8 lbs empty, giving you 41.2 lbs of luggage to store
  • Looking for great warranty with local stores to take bag too for service
  • Wanted polycarbonate bag without any bits of fabric or stuff to get ripped off by the airline
  • Easy to lift and carry to get up to our bedroom for packing and into the car to go to the airport.

How has it made your life better?

We’ve now traveled with these bags for a few thousand miles and to a few countries. Each time we’ve managed to fit all our clothing for a family of 4 into two bags. I suspect as the kids get older and they start managing their own luggage, we’ll get 1-2 more of the smaller 26 inch models. But that’s a few years off.

I like to think that the cost per bag, and the anticipated longevity of these bags (10 years or more) will be a solid investment.

I think my favorite thing with these bags though is how easy it is to push two of them through the airport and get in and out of elevators, escalators, cars, checkin and pickup. They are so easy to push and carry. If you need to you can also “drag” them along like a traditional wheel bag.

If you are thinking about new luggage, or perhaps it’s a few years off. You should take a look at these bags (and feel free to compare to the cost/features of the  Rimowa/Tumi/Samsonite polycarbonate spinners). I find that the simplicity of these bags, coupled with the features and warranty are a great investment if you want to transition to hard sided spinners.

Are you going to keep it?

Well, we donated all our other luggage. So yes ;-).

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Trakdot – GSM location based luggage tracking

I recently returned from an overseas trip visiting Iceland and France. This involved a layover in Iceland for a few days and then a return connection on the way home (Iceland Air – which is pretty fantastic). Interesting tidbit is that Seattle to Iceland is about a 7 hour flight. That’s 90 minutes longer then flying to New York.

Anyway, most of you have probably experienced the “missing” or worse, “lost” bag on your trips. I was visiting my friend Jimmy a few weeks ago and he had a few of these “Trakdot” luggage tracking devices. I had seen similar devices before (on Kickstarter) but the Trakdot seemed like it his a nice sweet spot of cost and annual service ($20/year, first year free). So this post is about my experience with this device.

What is it?

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The Trackdot [Amazon - $69.95, Direct - $49.99] is a small black box that runs on two AA batteries for 48 hours. Included in my device, purchased from Amazon was 1 year of service. I don’t know how much it is after that (I think $20/year) and I’m not sure it will matter (see more below). It contains a GSM SIM card allowing it to send text messages from anywhere in the world. The idea is that when ever the bag arrives at any airport, it wakes up and sends you a text message telling you where it is.

Trakdot also has an iOS and Android app that allows you to pair it via bluetooth and receive push notifications. I found the iOS app to be quite buggy. It never kept my signin info, I never got push notifications, and the Bluetooth feature is bizzare. I could not really understand how to get it to work. The idea is that if the bag is within 40 ft of your phone it will vibrate. This could be useful for example to detect of the bag is on your plane.

Why did you get it?

Well, I wanted to make sure my bags were on the plane I was on, that they made their connections etc. On the way home our 90 minute layover turned into a 30 minute layover, and it gave me piece of mind to know that when I landed at SeaTac my bag let me know it was there. Had I not received the SMS I could have immediately gone to the lost bag counter and possibly even told them where it was (maybe it went to the wrong city).

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So how did it work? Well it worked OK. I did receive an SMS before departing Seattle. However, I did not receive one upon landing in KEF airport in Iceland. I sent them a support request and didn’t hear back till a few days later. And till now they don’t appear to have a grip on why. When leaving KEF to CDG I did get an SMS (great, maybe there was a bug), but then when arriving in Paris at CDG I got my SMS message after retrieving my luggage from baggage claim (30 min later). So it worked, but not how I would expect.

On the return trip things fared a bit better. I did not get an SMS in KEF Iceland, despite the fact that we were on the ground for an hour…. but then I got an SMS immediately when arriving at SEA (within minutes of landing).

So, my guess is that this device works great in the United States, and is pretty spotty internationally. I am still waiting to hear back from them about this experience. Based on this alone, I could not recommend this product to anyone till these bugs are worked out.

How has it made your life better?

Well, primarily piece of mind. If this technology were more mature, and the cost were lower, I could see this being pretty standard in a few years. In fact, given that there is an opportunity for an annual service fee and a better customer relationship / insights, I could see all the big baggage companies offering this service themselves (Tumi, Rimowa, Briggs & Riley, Victorinox, and so on). In fact, this seems like a good upgrade to the Victorinox Swiss Army Bag tracker program.

However, this is still a pretty immature product category and given the issues that I experienced, they have a long way to go to stabilize the technology.

But for the price, I think it’s a reasonable product and assuming the bugs get fixed, I could see owning these for all my luggage in the future.

Are you going to keep it?

Since I purchased this already (sunk cost), I plan to keep it. I wish they would move to a device that lasted longer (lithium disposable batteries, or rechargeable) as well as an iOS app that wasn’t incomprehensible and SMS messages that were reliable.

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Normal Ears – custom 3d printed headphones

If there was one thing that Apple did (and they did many), it was create a vibrant market for headphones. Since the advent of the iPod, white headphones where every where. Prior to this, most people didn’t care about headphones and most headphones were black and boring. Fast forward to this year, where headphones have become so iconic, and fashion oriented, that Apple purchased Beats Audio for over 3 billion.

But the problem with headphones, is that they are “one size fits all”. We all know that for most products, this approach leads to some amount of discomfort. And specifically, I’m referring to “earbud style”.

Earbud headphones are great because they are compact and you can easily take them anywhere. The challenge with earbud style headphones is that:

  • They don’t often “fit” very well, falling out of ears
  • The “in ear” ones require fiddling around with different size ear tips and at least for me cause a lot of discomfort from the pressure in my ear.

These problems are hard to solve. Up till recently “custom” earmolds for earbud headphones (offered by Shure, Etymotyic and the like) require a visit to a hearing specialist where they take a mold of your ear and create a silicon tip. Usually for the cost of a few hundred dollars.

Well, there is a company trying to change that, and their headphones are called “Normals”

What is it?

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Normal ears are created in New York City using 3D printers. The way it works is that you download an app do your iOS or Android phone and take some photos of your ears. Based on those photos, they create custom fitted earbuds and ship them to you in 24 hours. Pretty neat. You can read more at Venturebeat:

The company’s big innovation is its ability to create $200, 3D-printed earbuds that are molded for your ears. Normal’s iPhone app can capture the contours of your ears just by taking a few photos while you hold a quarter up to your ear (for a common reference size). Your unique headphone frame is then 3D printed (the company has 10 Stratasys Fortus printers at work in its retail space) and then assembled and tested by a crew of employees.

You also get to personalize your earbuds in a number of different colors. I personally like that experience of creating something unique for me.

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Here is what customization looks like in the iOS app.

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Here are a picture of my earbuds in the custom case they made for me:

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I originally went with black everything and red plastic, but then decided the “red” was too orange for me, so they swapped it out for blue.

Normals are not cheap. at $199 you are making a pretty big investment in your ears. But given how much music I listen to on the go, commuting, and traveling, I felt that this was something I’d get a lot of value out of over time. A set of high quality headphones at the Apple Store is going to run you $79 – $500 and up, so this is a market segment where you can spend a little or a lot to listen to music.

Everything about creating them is fun. And their brand is very playful / whimsical.

Why did you get it?

I really like the idea of having earbuds with me at all times, but I can’t tolerate the discomfort the silicon / foam inserts cause after a while of listening to music. The Normals are very comfortable as they don’t go in to your ear canal, but they mainly sit over your ear canal supported by the custom 3d printed plastic. It’s mainly friction that’s holding them in place. They don’t fall out, so they are well suited for running too.

How has it made your life better?

I think it’s pretty remarkable that you can get custom items these days based on using an app on your phone and 3rd printing. I imagine that we’ll see a lot more of this over time.

Normals have the added benefit that when I commute, I can still hear road noise and sounds around me (they are not sound isolating). They are similar to the earbuds that come with the iPhone/iPod by default, but don’t fall out of your ear and sound much better.

Are you going to keep it?

Till something better comes a long. I’ve found them to be much more comfortable from regular earbuds (albeit not perfect). But there isn’t really a product that offers this much customization delivered so quickly.

If you are interested, you can order your own Normals by heading over to http://nrml.com/ and downloading their app. In about 10 min you’ll have taken the photos and customized your Normals.

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Simplehuman Sensor Pump

One of my life hacks is that I try and use the same product everywhere. For example, we have the same refillable soap dispensers in every bathroom, and we purchase one kind of “refill”, in bulk. That way when the soap runs out, we have plenty of refill on stock and it’s the same in every bathroom. In our house we have 7 places where we have a soap dispenser.

Why do I do this? I don’t want to think about any of this stuff. When the soap is low there is only 1 thing to do. Refill. When we are low on refill pouches there is only 1 thing to do. Buy more in bulk. I do that maybe 1x every 2 years.

There are other ways to apply this technique, but this post is about Soap dispensers.

What is it?

simplehuman makes a variety of soap dispensers. For those paying attention, simplehuman is also the company that makes those awesome makeup mirrors I told you about on mother’s day.

For pumps you have:

  • Rechargeable Pumps
  • Battery operated pumps
  • Hand pumps

The nice thing is you can spend as much or as little as you want, and the soap is all the same. You can buy the soap by the 1 or in bulk. I order them in bulk directly from simplehuman as their prices are the lowest. I hate paying for shipping just like you (Amazon Prime FTW), but for $4.99 I’m willing to get consistent prices on Soap (Amazon seems to have an inventory problem with this company and when that happens 3rd party sellers jack up the prices).

In terms of dispensers, we have a few of the simplehuman Compact Sensor Pump

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Amazon just sent me a simplehuman Rechargeable Bath Sensor Pump

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And we have a couple of the manual simplehuman 15-Ounce Square Push Pumps (for the adults in our bathroom)

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For a Kitchen or high volume soap area, you may want to upgrade to a larger pump (they come in 8oz and 13oz sizes)

The batteries for the non rechargeable ones last about 3-4 months. You can use AA rechargeable batteries, but they don’t seem to be as strong as Alkaline. The newer ones with the built in USB charging are lithium ion and should be amazing. But this comes at a large premium over the non rechargeable model.

For soap, we use the lavender soap and we get 6 packs direct from simplehuman.

note: it seems everyone is out of stock of lavender right now, which explains why the prices on Amazon are so high. 

Why did you get it?

We first saw these at my son’s pre-school. They use them there to prevent the spread of germs (getting on the soap container/pump) and preventing the kids from dispensing too much soap. Smart. I was thinking, why not get these for our entire house? I have certainly seen my kids use WAY too much soap.

How has it made your life better?

Simple is good. At least that’s what I think. And I don’t want to think about something as mundane as soap. Finally, this system produces very little “trash” or recycling assuming you are purchasing refills and using rechargeable batteries, the rechargeable pump or the hand pump.

Are you going to keep it?

We’ve been on this system for about a year now and it’s worked out great.

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The Greatest Hoodie Ever Made?

I’ve taken to wearing hoodies over the past few years. And why not? They are super comfortable for lounging around, traveling, wearing on spring / fall days. I have never found the perfect hoodie though. A few years ago I came close, with a really heavy weight lululemon sweatshirt, but I’m somewhere in between a large and a medium and they don’t quite fit me as well as I’d like.

That’s why when I heard about American Giant, I was intrigued.

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What is it?

It’s a hoodie! How special could a hoodie be? Well I’ll leave you to read the following article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, by Farhad Manjoo who put this company on the map:

The result is a sweatshirt with several design elements you won’t find on the competition. The most obvious difference is that American Giant’s hoodie is fitted—it sits close around your chest, then gently tapers in around your stomach, resulting in a garment that doesn’t look slouchy. At great expense—and after lots of experimentation—Manoux added a “side-panel” to the hoodie, a strip of stretchy fabric that joins the back of the hoodie to the front. The side panel gives the hoodie “mobility,” Manoux explained—it allows you to raise your arm all the way up without feeling the whole coat ride up on you. It also insures the hoodie against future expansion: As your stomach grows larger, the stretchy fabric will grow along with it.

 

For me, this design element of the side panel, is what makes this hoodie quite unique. I can raise my arm and not have the hoodie ride up my back.

Beyond this feature, it’s the most comfortable, soft, quality cotton product I’ve experienced.

You can watch this video to see how these are made.

Since Farhad wrote this article, they have been slammed with demand. It got so bad he wrote a followup article, “The Only Problem With the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made“, and goes into more detail on what makes this garment special.

I first purchased the Men’s Heavyweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt in Medium for $89 direct from them. The fit is tailored and I recommend following their size chart. I am 6’3″, 165lbs, 32 waist and the medium fits me like a glove. The sleeves are the right length and their is little slack anywhere.

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After receiving mine, I got another Men’s Midweight Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt for $79.

Lora was so impressed with this hoodie, she ordered some of the Women’s products. She got the Women’s Heavyweight Full Zip Mock Neck Sweatshirt.

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Here are the things I love about this hoodie:

  • Super thick plush cotton
  • Long sleeves
  • Tailored fit
  • Super comfy
  • Free shipping to and from
  • Great price
  • Made in the USA

Note: if you purchase an item using this link, you’ll get 15% off your order, and I’ll get a referral fee.

Why did you get it?

Like I mentioned. I love hoodies, and in my quest to find all things awesome, I was intrigued by all this hype.

How has it made your life better?

I’ll leave you with this:

It used to be a sweatshirt was just a sweatshirt—something we grab from the depths of our closets and throw on when we’re feeling lazy and sartorially uninspired. And technically, a sweatshirt is still just a sweatshirt, though if you ask someone from American Giant, they’d politely disagree. “The sweatshirt is the second most iconic silhouette behind the blue jeans,” says Bayard Winthrop. “But for a long time, no one was really passionate about sweatshirts.”

Are you going to keep it?

I now own the world’s greatest sweatshirt. And I agree with what others have said and written. Check them out.

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Wool Comforters

Like many of you, for most of our lives we’ve been sleeping with down comforters. I’m not sure how widespread others experience this, but personally, most of those nights I would overheat. I tried various “light” and “summer” fill comforters to no avail.

A few years ago while shopping for a mattress, the salesperson noted that our problems could probably be addressed by switching out our down comforter and cotton mattress pad for wool. Now when I think of wool, I think of itchy hot sweaters from my childhood. She assured me that wool is one of the best materials to cool (breathable) and warm. So based on that advice we decided to give it a shot. That is when we purchased a Natura “washable” wool comforter.

What is it?

Like it sounds, the Natura World Wash N Snuggle Comforter (Super King, King, Queen, Full, Twin), is a comforter (aka Duvet) that is simply made of wool instead of down. It’s “washable” which means you can place it in the washing machine to clean it, without worrying about it shrinking too much. Personally, I don’t recommend this, and we’ll probably just dry clean it.

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While we were at it, we also got a Natura wool matress pad, creating an envelope of wool around us.

Why did you get it?

Our main motivation here was to stop waking up hot. Which happened pretty often.

How has it made your life better?

I can’t tell you how different this is to sleep with. We’ve owned this comforter for 2 years now and I have never once woken up hot. My wife, who is famous for throwing the old down comforter on top of me to escape the heat, has never once done this.

In the summer and the winter we sleep fantastic. The comforter does a great job of regulating the heat.

There are a couple of “gotchas” to note.

  • This comforter is “thinner” and not as “full” as down. As such it lies more like a quilt on your bed.
  • It helps to have a duvet cover that is close to the actual dimensions of the comforter. As I learned a long time ago, there is no real “standard” size for comforter / duvets. They all range a little here and there. So finding “fitted” sheets for this comforter is important. This is probably a bigger problem for “King” beds since you have both Easter and California King beds but no real difference for comforters.

Are you going to keep it?

We are very happy with this purchase and can’t imagine going back to down.

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Vornado 660 Whole Room Air Circulator

It’s summer. If you are lucky, you have air conditioning. Most people in Seattle do not. When we purchased our house, one of the first things we did was get AC. Why? Because my wife (and honestly I) can’t sleep in a hot room. We have a 3 story, new house. As such it’s incredibly well insulated and when it gets hot, it stays hot for a long while.

When purchasing our house though, we made the mistake of getting whole house air conditioning because our house was plumbed for it. However in hindsight, that was a mistake. We would have been way better off installing a Ductless Mini-Split system in our 3 bedrooms. This would have provided the correct sleeping temperature in the only rooms that we need cooling, without wasting money cooling our whole house (mostly unnecessary here in Seattle). Ductless mini-split is designed for people that don’t have ducting (radiant heat or no heat), but they can also act as heat pumps and heat in the winter. Think of them as basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse to heat as well.

Anyway, what’s done is done. We have a problem though. Our bedroom is quite large (with vaulted ceilings), and on a moderately warm day (> 76) our room gets beaten by the sun, and with the vaulted ceilings doesn’t really cool down enough by the evening. After a few years of pondering a solution, it turned out some old school tech was all that was needed. A Fan.

note: scheduled for a different / future post is our wool duvet and bed cover, which probably has had the most profound impact on our sleep comfort.

What is it?

The Vornado 660 Whole Room Air Circulator is a Fan, but it’s not really designed to blow air at you. It’s designed to circulate the air in the room. And boy does this thing move air around. It turns out that air movement (or the lack theirof) is the primary reason our room didn’t cool down. Our ceiling would collect hot air, and that hot air would fall as the day went on, crushing the ability for our ducts to push enough cool air to keep things comfy.

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You can see from the photo, that this thing looks nice. It comes in White and Black [$99 @ Amazon]. We chose white for our room. It’s not a nice looking as say the $300-$400 Dyson Fans, but the cost / benefit to this guy is kinda nuts in my opinion.

The reason it’s tilted up because you are supposed to “point” it at say the corner ceiling of your room to get air circulating. You do not point it at your bed for example.

Why did you get it?

I got this particular Fan because of the rave reviews on Amazon, and my general familiarity with Vornado. I wanted to love the idea of getting a Dyson fan, but the reviews are pretty mixed and the cost is pretty high.

How has it made your life better?

We’ve had this Fan for a few weeks and my general observation is that it’s cooled our room about 3-4 degrees. That’s a pretty substantial difference for us.

I have placed it within the vicinity of our duct, and so it managed to capture cool air (roughly 50-60 degree) and blow it straight up to the vaulted ceiling, pushing the hotter air down back into the room.

The fan has 4 speed settings. The lowest setting produces a very comfortable flow of air with minimal noise. The 2nd setting is a bit stronger with a bit louder, but tolerable noise for sleeping. 3 and 4 are left for mega hot days (80+ degrees outside) and we leave it on 3-4 during the day and then 1-2 at night.

Are you going to keep it?

This should last a good long time. We plan on getting a smaller model for our daughter’s room which has a different problem. Too cold in the winter as her room is over our garage, and it tends to be a cold spot in our house.

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