Category Archives: Material Pursuits

Consumerism and Consumption

@Rest for iPad

This is the complete opposite of the travel related products and mobile gear I enjoy reviewing. But I had an excellent experience with this company and love their line of unique and locally made products. (Local as in the US.)

I do not own an iPad, and have no desire to obtain one. My beatup MacBook serves me fine on the go – and I prefer a full computer to work remotely and move my and edit my photos.

My friend, a college student, received an iPad for his birthday. Of course every iPad owner should have a good stand to facilitate easy viewing, and of course show off Apple’s best toy next to the PC, on the end table, or in the kitchen if you’re using your iPad as a futuristic recipe card and cooking guide. (Epcot never predicted that.)

After some hunting I found the site of Heckler Designers, maker of the @Rest. This stand is a heavy duty solid steel one piece design, for use in portrait or landscape. It’s primarily designed for static use at home or office, and is offered in four colors including crisp bright red.

It sells for a very reasonable price of $59 which includes shipping. (Even the sale is simple.) Adding to the good design is great communication: After ordering I sent them an email asking if it could be sent next day, since I wanted it to arrive on the same day as my friend’s birthday. They happily did so, and I paid the additional shipping via Paypal after it was sent out.

Heckler Designs is run by Dean Heckler our of Phoenix, and also makes the “One Less” line of minimal office furniture.

http://hecklerdesign.com/atrest/

Gift Card Conundrum

This is a tad off topic but I’d like help understanding why people on Ebay are paying more for gift cards than their face value.

I’m selling an Amazon gift card for $40. Don’t tell the person that gave it to me. I actually found the nice photo frames I wanted at Michael’s so I bought them there and decided to recoup the cost by selling the card on eBay. Even Steven.

I scanned a few similar bids before putting it up, expecting to start my bid at $30 and probably sell for around $35, giving free shipping as it’s just an envelope.

I was shocked to see this $20 bid winding down before my eyes at $43! What the hell?

This $200 card has nine minutes to go as of this writing, and selling at $202.

For some reason this Best Buy $50 card is bidding at $51

Although no bids yet, the person selling this $500 card expects at least $539 based on his “Buy it Now” offer.

This $25 card has six days left, and a “Buy it Now price” of $28.

And finally, my $40 Amazon card, after being put up yesterday with six days left is at an even $40. The face value of the card.

Is this a bidding war gone mad? Are people getting emotional when they get outbid? “Outbid me huh? I’ll show you who the winner is…”

Why would somone bother dealing with shipping and eBay fees to save one or two dollars? Or offer MORE for that matter? Especially when you can visit any grocery store and just buy one off the shelf. I think it’s a great idea to buy a card for a few bucks off someone trying to unload it that wouldn’t make use of it. But I’m baffled at paying face value or higher. To my knowledge these don’t offer any extra value or offers, and are no different than a store bought card or just plunking down cash at the register.

This isn’t new either. A few years back I received a $100 American Airlines gift card. Since I usually fly United I put that one eBay, and was shocked when it won in the neighborhood of $98.

It there’s something completely obvious I’m missing I’d love to know, and would probably remove this post in embarrassment. But as of now I’m lost, and ready to start a part time hobby of buying $100 gift cards in bulk and selling them for $130.

Detours Toocan Panniers

For a few years I’ve had this Trek Grocery pannier. I never cared for it. When filled and heavy the bottom would sag and clip my back wheel. When empty the lack of deep hooks threw it off my rack too often.

I set out to find a new one, and being a beautiful Saturday I skipped the online search and did it the old fashion way: I went to three brick and mortar stores comparing products and prices. Yup, just like when my parents needed a new appliance and we’d spend all day Saturday touring West Michigan superstores with newspaper ads in one hand and consumer reports in the other.

Performance Bikes on Colorado only had fancy schmancy touring panniers. Too complicated for grocery runs and transporting bulky items. Turin Bikes stock tons of hip messenger bags, some permanent wire racks and baskets, but not the “clip on clip off” pannier I wanted for shopping and transporting bulky wares by bike.

I found the Detours Toocan Pannier at REI, for $45. Now high quality reputable panniers generally start at $100, so I wondered if this would be the same crummy quality as my old one. I bought it and planned to return it should it fail to transport the goods to my liking.

Surprisingly I loved it from day one. On the way home I stocked up to make a tray of lasagna, adding a half gallon of milk and two liter of soda. It weighed about 25 pounds and handled excellent. The bottom is solid rubber, which adds a bit to the weight but makes it sturdier. The hooks are deep so if you hit a bump or bounce it won’t fall off. There’s no bottom hook, but the design is wide rather than deep, so the sides don’t chafe against the wheel.

It also makes an excellent commuter’s bag, protecting folded shirts and pants with a zip up top. There are two side pockets and it even comes with a yellow rain cover. I can fit more in here than I ever have before, and no longer find myself dangling bags of bananas and onions over the handlebars when I can’t stuff them in.

The negative? I don’t really care for the diamond style design and stitching. When off the bike I think it looks like a big bag for women, especially with the pleated upper corners and more so if using the padded shoulder strap. But while I don’t care for the form I’m keeping it for the function. The design is perfect, and at this price it’s one of the best and most solid urban panniers I’ve seen.

I highly recommended this product for the urban cyclist, and I don’t believe it’s that feminine looking to be carried around the supermarket or office.

More photos and designs at REI.com

Wheeled Backpack Winner

I recently solicited advice on wheeled backpacks. For long trips I use a medium-large size REI backpack, going on nine years old.  Wearing it for extended periods or lifting it repeatedly has started to take a toll. Plus I use a Timbuk2 messenger bag, so when I’m schlepping them both on my shoulders I look like a sherpa starting out for the Himalayas. I wanted a wheeled backpack to take the ease off my back in airports, train stations, and the like -  yet carry it easily in cities, short hikes, or places where rolling a suitcase isn’t convenient.

I chose the Eagle Creek Twist 22. This commenter had good things to say about the Eagle Creek Switchback, and Eagle Creek line in general.

I checked out the Switchback at Colorado Baggage, but found it too big. However they make a smaller version called the “Twist.” I found the Twist 22 and 25 at REI later that evening. The Twist 22 fit my price, size, and style. REI had more of a selection than I expected, so I compared it against a few others: I was wowed at the Swiss Army E-Motion 360, which straight out of a James Bond movie was a razor sharp red and contained a slick detachable man purse inside – but the $300 plus price was more than I wanted to spend. I justified it by saying “I’ll look TOO nice and don’t want to draw attention to myself on the road.” So that was out.  REI manufactures a unit called the “Stratocruise,” for $189, but it’s heavier than the Twist, and not quite as stylish. (I had a bland REI backpack for years, so want a little color and style.)

Being a fan of Timbuk2 I also checked out the Timbuk2 “Checkpoint,” in person. (This is actually a regular roller suitcase, not a backpack.) This was much heavier than expected, and although more pliable than a suitcase it doesn’t collapse as much as I wanted. Important seeing as how I’m always in boarding group “4″ with limited overhead space. I didn’t see this being as flexible as I wanted. That retails for around $260.

One selling point of the Eagle Creek line was the “backpack,” portion of the bag. Some “wheeled backpacks,” have stowable clumsy shoulder straps, which technically fits the title of “wheeled backpack,” but when I tried them on they felt boxy and uncomfortable. The Twist 22′s straps are wide and padded, and have waist straps for even weight distribution. (Pictured left)

REI’s price for the Eagle Creek “Twist 22″ was $240. I found it online at LuggageBase.com for the same price, with a 35% Eagle Creek discount, and they were including a free “Pack It” folder. (I’m not really sure what this is for.)  But wait there was more! They are having a free shipping special, so my total cost was $203. My apologies to the REI store and city of Denver for not funding our local tax base, but 60 bucks saved is important.

Hopefully this will this to serve me well for years to come, from Breckenridge to Buenos Aires. The good news is I’ll have a chance to dirty it up in Florida next month, so it won’t look too fancy and new when tooling around Argentina this fall.

A note on LuggageBase. There are hundreds of sites online that will sell you luggage. It’s quite overwhelming.  Luggage Base’s website doesn’t look fancy, and I had never heard of them.  The “new customer” form was not loading completely, so I called the 800 number on the home page and spoke with someone first ring, without holding or being transferred. The rep verified the minor site problem on her end, requested I try back in an hour, and when I did it worked perfectly. Knowing someone is available in an actual office rockets their reputation forward in my opinion.  They also have a physical store in Nipomo California.  That’s just north of Santa Maria, which is north of Santa Barbara if you’re planning a trip to the Michael Jackson Neverland Ranch Memorial Gardens.  LuggageBase.com shipped this product same day, (I’ll receive Tuesday,) and they also offers free returns, so if this doesn’t work out I’m not stuck.   Five stars to LuggageBase.

If this post/reviews have been helpful in your quest for wheeled backpack feel free to let me know!

Original post: Wheeled Backpacks

Crocs Store at Denver Airport

I passed more hours than I’d like to admit at the airport a few weeks back. I arrived ridiculously early in hopes of catching an earlier ride to Chicago, but a canceled flight also canceled my hopes of making any standby list.

I was enjoying lunch at the Paradise Cafe at about 11am, sitting near the Crocs store/kiosk. For 15 minutes I didn’t witness a single person manning the kiosk or checking up on the place – not a SOLE in sight. Thank you. Thank you.

I’ve never worn Crocs, nor do I have anything against them. Just thought it was interesting given their business stories over the past year.

Wheeled Backpacks

Soliciting some advice:

For years I’ve had two bags, both of which I use as carry ons. I hate checking luggage, (mostly because I don’t care to wait at baggage claims,) plus I travel light. For weekend trips I have my Timbuk2 messenger bag, and for longer stays I add my medium size REI backpack. The backpack goes in the overhead bin. My messenger bag, with books, snacks, and HP Mini laptop goes under the seat.

This has worked out great for the past seven years, until Memorial Day weekend when I arrived at the airport extremely early in attempts to catch a standby flight to Chicago. Unfortunately due to a single canceled flight there was no availability on the other 10 flights, (yes 10 – thought I had a chance,) so I wound up leaving at 3pm as originally planned. That made for nine hours of gate hopping between reading, napping, and watching these birds, stuck inside Concourse B like myself, drink out of this water fountain. And nine hours of schlepping around my heavy backpack. Denver isn’t the worst airport to wait around in. The upper level in the center of concourse B is uncrowded with comfy chairs and some free semi-private cubicles to plug into to surf or work. But still, I was bored and because I was traveling solo couldn’t go anywhere without my gear.

Everyone on the planet has wheeled suitcases. I even see professionals walking down city streets diligently towing them like a pokey child. But these are usually firm and have a hard frame. Thus I’ve seen way too many people fruitlessly trying to cram them into overhead bins while rearranging and shoveling around other peoples’ stuff. Plus, when you step out of the airport and into the world of cobbled sidewalks, curbs, and streets – they aren’t that functional.

I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a wheeled suitcase that was also collapsible, like a backpack?” Or if it was pliable and not limited the the restraints of overhead bins, taxi cab trunks, etc.

Turns out they make wheeled backpacks. I had no idea these existed until I was at the Apple store in Cherry Creek and noticed a Samsonite store across the way. I explained this is to the salesman and he showed me the Samsonite “Wander” – for about $85. It’s everything I want, AND – you can use it as a regular backpack too. It’s pictured left. I searched online and also found the Timbuk2 “Checkpoint,” (right,) which retails for around $250. This however does not have backpack straps. Also on my list is the Jansport “Driver 8,” which is not as aesthetically pleasing but looks functional nonetheless.

So – has anyone used these or have recommendations for similar styles and designs? Love to hear.


edit – 6.14 Here’s a photo of the backpacks two of my regular and appreciated commenters suggest:

Anil of FoxNomad.com suggests the “Swiss Army E-Motion” – pictured left. Right is the “Switchback” by Eagle Creek, personally recommended by 2Wheels3Speeds.

I posted the rear photo of the “Switchback,” as it has the lumber strap found in most regular backpacks. It appears the “E-Motion has this too. The Samsonsite “Wander” did not have that, making it feel a bit clunky when transitioning to a regular backpack. My thanks to both suggestions. I’m going to try and track them both down here in Denver to try on and check the size in person.


Update: Wheeled backpack winner

Bike of the Week 012009

Via Crunchgear – the SwissBike TX Commuter.

Many bike commuters can be stifled by storage logistics, and it can be unweildy to transport bikes on crowded public transport if biking is only part of a commute.

The SwissBike TX folds into a nifty little square, making it easy to throw into a trunk, carry around, or lock up securly.  If you do need to bring it inside somewhere, (business, office, etc.) you’ll probably find fewer objections than you would if carting around a full size bike.  According to Alternative Consumer is retails for $699.

I wonder if I could carry this on my back somehow… Swissbike.com



Christmas Creep at Walgreens

The Consumerist often publishes photos and conversations with store managers who throw out Christmas and Holiday displays obscenely early. Their tag is titled “Christmas Creep.

Most agree that AFTER Thanksgiving should be the start of the CHRISTMAS season, but this idea has been lost on retail for a long, long time.

I spotted this wrapping paper at Walgreens, and although its on the unreachable top shelf and probably just overflow from the stock room, I definitely think it qualifies.

Chevy HHR in Brief

My mom purchased this car last year. I’ve driven it a few times and each time am astounded at how small the windshield is.  Making this narrow slat of glass appear even smaller is the bubbling dashboard top, and the front part of the roof which tapers downward looking as though its stretching in vain to merge with the dashboard and completely cocoon you inside.

For comparison here is a photo of the Chevy HHR’s windshield along with the windshield of the space shuttle Discovery, which you’d expect have LESS visibility to the outside.


Photo from airlineworld.

Smartcar Safety

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my experience tooling around town in my friend’s new Smart car.   I’m a true fan.   I love the gas mileage, clean design, and small footprint.  However as I noted the immediate reactionary comments I heard were about safety due to the compact size.

CNN reports that the Smartcar received high marks for front and side collisions, and except for less than standard whiplash protection was considered a very safe vehicle overall.

Being far from a crash test authority I take issue with the line “bigger and heavier is always better.”  You may feel safer driving a school bus or garbage truck, but how many SUVs flip over on freeways and superarterials each year?   Big and heavy without the experience and knowledge to manage such a vehicle cancels out any safety factor you gain by driving it.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The ultra-tiny Smart ForTwo earned top marks in side and front crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Wednesday. The two-seat car did not earn the Institute’s Top Safety Pick designation, however, because it didn’t earn top marks for whiplash protection.

The ForTwo is the smallest car the IIHS has ever tested. “All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better,” said institute president Adrian Lund in an statement. “But among the smallest cars, the engineers at Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package.”

Full article and video here.