When Lisa placed her order with us, she asked that we write a poem on her shipping box, and Hannah (Bag Guru) obliged.
Carl spent eight days studying the bears of Katmai, trusty Field Journal Notebook in tow. Should you ever be fortunate enough to do the same, he advises: “If you ever consider going there I highly recommend taking as much time at Brooks as you can, and doing a little homework beforehand on the individual bears. Getting to know the actors in the drama as individuals makes all the difference in the world, and makes you appreciate just how different bears can be from one another.”
“One thing that makes this bag [Synapse 19] stand out is its magnificently brilliant design. It is engineered so slickly and so intelligently that you can pack a hell lot more than other, much-larger backpacks. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a work of art.”
On the Forum, member tpnl is well-known for his detailed and insightful posts and creative TB hacks. Today, he is turning the design spotlight on the Brain Cell. Read on . . .
Protection and Lightweight Minimalism – The Brain Cell
I quite often wonder, as I am sure many of you do as well, why I like Tom Bihn products so much—there are few companies that can engage people’s passion as much.
The conclusion I came to is that I resonate with what I believe is Tom Bihn’s underlying ethos—to create something the stands the test of time through the use of quality materials and innovative design combined with an intuitive understanding of how people could use his products.
I think one of the best examples of this is the Brain Cell, which is available in both Horizontal and Vertical orientations. First off, the Brain Cell is designed to provide significant amounts of protection for your laptop. However, with the choice of durable material, the multi-layered protection design, and flexible carrying options, it becomes more than just a protective laptop case—it really is a great minimalist Every Day Carry (EDC) for lightweight computing in its own right.
Laptop Protection – the Brain Cell’s primary role as designed
I wish to take some time to fully appreciate how effective the design is in providing superior protection for your laptop. The description on the website identifies the various protection techniques: Corrugated Plastic on the front, back and bottom; the Sling set-up; the thick Memory Foam; the Cross-Linked Closed-Cell foam on the side, etc.—even the Aplix strips that keep your laptop in the bag. But, what does it all mean? How does it make the Brain Cell stand out in the crowd of sleeves and cases also designed to hold and protect your laptop?
The answer—the devil is in the details:
Using Corrugated Polypropylene as opposed to a regular sheet of plastic enhances the stiffness of Brain Cell, similar to how a wood plank is made stronger in one direction because of the wood grain. By also making the sides and bottom out of Corrugated Polypropylene, it protects your laptop like a helmet protects your head. It serves to distribute the force from a drop onto a larger surface area and away from your laptop. It turns the Brain Cell into a lightweight version of hard-sided travel luggage.
What really separates the best laptop cases from just good ones is corner drop protection. Most people have experienced that if you drop something on its edge or corner, it will probably dent easily. This is because the impact force is concentrated in a small area or point, magnifying its effect. This is also why it is easy to hammer the pointed end of a nail into wood rather than the flat top. The Brain Cell’s hard Polypropylene helmet extends to its corners and like a frame, deflecting the force away from the corner of your laptop or absorbing it instead of transferring it to your laptop, causing damage.
Selecting Dense, Closed-cell and Cross-linked Polyethylene foam for side protection shows an attention to the details by picking the best choices for foam. How does this protect your laptop? The dense Closed-cell foam acts like bubble wrap packaging protecting fragile items. It provides increased compression resistance (does not squish as easily) on impact compared to open-cell regular foam (used in most other cases). The bubbles are closed (sealed) so air does not escape easily and there are many of them (dense) to ensure there is protection all the way through. The Cross-linking creates a lattice structure that acts like a net for your laptop by keeping the dense foam together.
The Sling Suspension System design and the thick Memory foam at the bottom provide a double layer of protection for the most likely way your laptop will be dropped—on the bottom. The design is like having a trampoline or bungee cord with a memory foam mattress below it. The main goal here is to make sure the laptop does not slow down too quickly, because if the laptop hits the ground directly, it goes from drop speed to zero in the blink of an eye and absorbs most of the drop energy in the process, causing damage. Memory foam has much slower compression and rebound than regular foam or neoprene and acts like a car shock absorber to slow down any impacts. Regular foam and neoprene are useless at this despite how they feel.
An interesting feature is that the Sling Suspension System is adjustable. This helps ensure your laptop does not “bang around inside the case” and get damaged. This helps to fit a variety of laptops and still have the protection afforded by the sling. There is even a helpful video on how to do this. Also, the Aplix strips on the opening flaps run the full length of the flap for a secure closure to further prevent accidental opening or movement of the laptop in the case.
Finally, the Annex Clips provide a fifth level of protection after the Sling Suspension, thick Memory Foam, Corrugated Polypropylene and 500d Cordura outer fabric (which also provides a level of abrasion resistance). These clips allow you to suspend your Brain Cell inside many Tom Bihn backpacks, briefcases and travel bags, further reducing the impact speed and potential for damage.
If you have taken the time to read all the above, I would be surprised if you are not impressed with all that goes into this simple looking product. It is unique in the industry and is how I first got introduced to Tom Bihn products. Arguably, the Brain Cell is the most protective soft-sided case, with only rigid hard-sided cases being more protective (but less flexible in use). There other cases with some of the Brain Cell’s features and design, but none with all of them. Being from an IT background, I found myself searching for the best protection for my laptop and found it … and as a bonus, I also found these amazing bags to hold it in.
I have actually tested this protection together with other companies’ products (using a piece of drywall to simulate a laptop—do not try with a real laptop!) and the Brain Cell was the most protective of them all, with no damage to the drywall when dropped from 4 feet on all 6 sides and 4 corners. It was very impressive and what cemented my appreciation for the design of this product.
Lightweight Minimalist Carry – the outstanding secondary role
Now, for the person who wants to be a Minimalist (or even just someone who wants a lighter Every Day Carry) but still wants maximum laptop protection, the Brain Cell presents itself as one of the best options with the most flexibility and features:
- 500d Cordura exterior – This material is extremely abrasion-resistant and durable so the Brain Cell will not be damaged easily when carried on its own and it has a very natural fiber look.
- Web pockets – Built-in organization options to put a power supply, cables, cellphone, etc.
- Though the pockets mean the Brain Cell does not technically meet all the Checkpoint Friendly recommendations, the fact that the pockets are webbing / see-through have never caused an issue for me when going through the security check.
- Multiple carry options:
- Webbing handles.
- D-Rings and a shoulder strap—custom-made plastic D-Rings for strength and arguably the most comfortable shoulder strap, the Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap.
- Annex Clip loops to attach the Brain Cell securely to a Tom Bihn bag.
To make this the ultimate lightweight minimalist bag without sacrificing things, Tom Bihn has many accessories and options that can be used. Another excellent highlight is the company’s full support of a web forum and blog that allows people to exercise their creativity and post customized options that go beyond the original design and personalize their customers’ bags. To that end, for the Brain Cell, there are a few additional carry options that go beyond the original design and may add more flexibility through the use of the Annex Clip loops and D-Ring attachment points. Thanks to all the forum members that have posted innovative additional design innovations and given me so many ideas, including sewing on webbing strips into the Brain Cell so it will work with the current Tom Bihn Checkpoint Friendly Gatekeeper Clip system (see here for a description of how I did it).
Below are a few pictures to showcase this and help start your own design creation – enjoy!
In summary, the Brain Cell is the faithful companion for those who are serious about wanting to protect their laptop and believe in buying once and using for life—the reason IMHO all TB products stand out in a world of disposable, poorly designed products. The surprise is its designed versatility, making it a boon for minimalists or for people looking to lighten their daily carry.
(Thanks to @monkd for letting us share this awesome video.)
A few weeks ago, several members of the TOM BIHN Forum began cleaning up: their homes, their closets, their wardrobes—all in an effort to live less cluttered, simpler lives. A popular thread that emerged from this discussion was a wardrobe-streamlining method outlined on Project 333 by Courtney Carver, a writer and photographer whose work focuses on voluntary simplicity.
The bare-bones rules of the Project 333 challenge are simple: practitioners live for three months with a 33-item wardrobe, including shoes and outerwear. (For a more detailed explanation, see here.) Courtney challenged herself to do this back in 2010, and now, four years later, thousands of people from all over the world have joined her, some permanently changing their relationship to buying and wearing their clothes.
Courtney leads a busy life as a public speaker and author of books and three websites. She took some time out to talk with us about Project 333 and her thoughts on simplicity.
TOM BIHN Crew: What inspired Project 333?
COURTNEY CARVER: I started this minimalist fashion challenge because I knew that my closet was a major source of clutter in my life. There were so many items that I never wore, but felt compelled to hold on to. I thought that if I could simplify my closet, I’d really begin to understand my relationship with stuff and better identify what “enough” meant to me. I announced the challenge on bemorewithless.com for some accountability and was thrilled when almost one hundred people joined me. Almost four years later now, there are thousands of people from around the world dressing with 33 items or less.
TBC: There are a lot of simplicity/minimalist bloggers/writers/personalities out there, some of whom are notorious for dictating imperatives to the reader, such as the total number of items s/he should own. Conversely, your approach allows readers to exercise a lot of free will; for example, although the “rules” of Project 333 say that shoes count towards the 33 items, you invite participants to change the rules to suit their own situations and preferences. What has made you develop this flexible approach to minimalism?
CC: As I discovered the benefits of dressing with less, with 33 items or less, I wanted to make it as accessible as possible. I also realize that 33 may seem out of reach for some people, and instead of giving up or discounting the challenge as too extreme, I wanted to make room for people to discover the benefits by starting where they were. If that means not counting shoes in the 33 or dressing with 50 items instead of 33, there are are still valuable lessons to be learned. The number is just a number. That said, this is as temporary as you want it to be, so there isn’t really any risk to jumping all in.
TBC: On the flip side, are there benefits to occasionally exercising a large amount of restraint, living in a radically austere way, or being rigid in one’s practices? Can you think of situations where this might be the best course of action?
CC: I love a good challenge, so for me that kind of approach works, but it isn’t for everyone. This is life we are talking about, so if something like this makes someone completely unhappy, it has no benefit. In my experience though, people who take on Project 333 usually start out thinking that it’s crazy and extreme, and then find out that it makes everything easier.
TBC: How do you decide which non-consumable items (clothes or otherwise) come into your home?
CC: Anything I purchase or bring into my home/life has to add value in some way. I don’t shop to make myself feel better, or to fill a void. I think the majority of my purchases, especially with clothing, was an effort to feel more beautiful, powerful, loved, or something like that, and after parting with the majority of my stuff, I realized that you’ll never find something to wear that makes you feel beautiful, smart, or loved if you don’t believe that you already are. What I really wanted wasn’t at the store.
TBC: What is your philosophy about objects/possessions/materiality (noting that these are distinct but slippery categories)?
CC: I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately to determine what the shift has been since I started simplifying my life. I still own things, but my things don’t own me anymore. I appreciate the things I have, but I’m not attached to them. It’s just stuff. I’m ok with the fact that it will come and go and really doesn’t define who I am or what I’m about.
That said, I know during the initial decluttering and letting go, stuff has a big hold for most people. It comes with so much attachment and emotions, and not just the sentimental stuff. We feel bad for the money we spent. We feel like if we let it go we are throwing money out the window. The reality though is that we’ve already paid enough and if we keep that tight grip, we’ll keep paying. We will pay with our dollars by taking care of the item. We will pay with our time and we will continue to feel the guilt and regret. The best thing to do is to let go all the way. Let go of all of it: the thing, the attachment, and most of all the guilt. You’ve paid enough.
TBC: A few years ago on the website Becoming Minimalist, you described yourself as “a sap and a sentimental fool”, meaning that you had some difficulty pruning down the number of purely sentimental objects in your life. Where would you say you are today? Has your perspective on sentimental objects changed?
CC: I’m still sap and sentimental fool, but now I am moved more by moments and memories and I know that I don’t need stuff to trigger that. There were some sentimental items that were hard for me to go of, but less because I wanted to keep them, and more because I didn’t want to hurt anyone in the process. To avoid that, I was very open about things and I took pictures of a few of the items. And I kept a few things. Less is not nothing.
TBC: On your own website, you wrote a post called “Less is Not Nothing,” which addresses the assumption or misconception that minimalism is the same as self-denial or self-imposed suffering. Are there other assumptions about minimalism that you have heard, and wish to correct?
CC: You don’t have to live out of a backpack, burn all of your stuff or live a certain way. There are so many versions of this lifestyle that labeling it is almost a disservice. My version isn’t about suffering at all. In fact, if it isn’t contributing to a happier, healthier life, I’m out.
TBC: A follow-up question: one assumption floating around is that minimalism is actually a luxurious way of living. In other words, to practice minimalism a person must have achieved a certain level of economic and social security, and that poor people do not have the luxury. What are your thoughts on that?
CC: There is a reason they call it voluntary simplicity and it’s likely much harder to find the upside when you don’t choose to live with less. I can’t comment on every situation, but I do think that if we are in a position to help people who don’t have what they need, we should. I also believe that living with less can contribute to the security many desire but find impossible to achieve. So many of us (including me) thought we were working to have it all, but on closer inspection, I had less before than I have now. The bank owned my house and between car notes, credit card debt and student loans, I really didn’t own anything. Now I rent my home and live with things that are paid for. There is great security and freedom in not owing anyone anything.
TBC: A lot of simplicity/life enhancement bloggers work in “location-independent professions” that are also very elastic in terms of time investment. In fact, this sort of work situation is often touted as one of the major goals or benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that this emphasis on personal freedom and rejection of typical middle-class responsibilities might alienate people; for example, those who have 40-hour work weeks, or a mortgage, or are tied to a given place for one reason or another?
CC: It shouldn’t alienate, it should inspire. I know it inspired me. Living with less, paying off our debt, and reducing monthly expenses all contributed to me leaving an almost 20 year career in sales and marketing. For the longest time I thought I’d never leave because I couldn’t find another job to replace my income, but by changing my lifestyle, I didn’t need to. I think it’s also important to note that you said “personal” freedom. That means something different to everyone. If you enjoy a 40-hour work week or living in a certain neighborhood, that’s great. For me, being creative in my work, and not reporting to a certain person or place is my personal freedom.
TBC: Do you have any rituals or routines in your day-to-day work and personal life?
CC: I do have a morning routine that I practice five or six days a week when I’m home, and if I’m traveling, I practice at least a slice of it as often as possible. My morning routine changes during the year but usually involves some combination of exercise, meditation and writing. I also have become much more verbal about what I’m grateful for. I either journal about it, or make quick notes throughout the day withThe Random Gratitude App. It’s great, because after you record what you’re grateful for, the app shows you what you were grateful for this time last year or at another time.
TBC: You’ve recently downsized a lot, from a house to an apartment, and have written a bit about that. One of your readers said that her love for her pets was posing an obstacle to achieving her minimalist goals. But you have a dog (and also a child, which some minimalists consider an impediment to the freedom and location-independence I mentioned above). What mindset or thinking has permitted you to say kids and dogs are not just tolerable, but welcome in your life?
CC: Minimalism may help location-independence, but they are different things. Minimalism looks different for everyone. For me it made more time and space for me to engage in my daughter’s life and spend more time with her as she was growing up. She is currently in Australia on a working-holiday. Coincidentally, she introduced me to Tom Bihn. She was determined to leave for a year with only a backpack.
While I didn’t start simplifying until my daughter was a pre-teen, I can’t help but think that this shift in lifestyle contributed to her desire to travel the world and experience people and places over stuff.
And about the pets, I’ve joked that if I had simplified my life earlier, we wouldn’t have a dog, but if that’s true, I’m so glad I waited. Guinness is part of the family and brings me so much joy. I wouldn’t trade joy or connection for any amount of simplicity.
Minimalism will change your lifestyle, but it really impacts is your mindset. It makes you think differently about everything and helps you value relationships, health, love and purpose over money, stuff and busyness. At least that’s what it did for me.
TBC: What are some items that you consider essential to your work and personal life?
CC: A computer, a camera, and a journal. While I have my favorites, I could make any of them work.
Thanks to our awesome production and shipping crews, backorders for the following bags have been shipped and they’re officially in stock and ready to ship within one business day:
Shop Bag, Small, in Ultraviolet, Solar, Steel, and Iberian, and the Shop Bag, Large, in Wasabi and Iberian
Western Flyer, Backpack Straps, in Navy/Solar and Black/Steel
Synapse 19 in colors Olive/Steel, Black/Iberian, Black/Wasabi, Navy/Ultraviolet
Synapse 25 in Black/Steel, French Blue/Steel, Burnt Orange/Steel, Cocoa/Wasabi, Steel/Ultraviolet
Night Flight Travel Duffle in Coyote/Steel, Forest/Steel, Steel/Steel
Aeronaut 30 in Black/Wasabi
Aeronaut 45 in colors Black/Iberian, Black/Ultraviolet
Pilot in Navy/Solar, Steel/Ultraviolet, Forest/Steel, Black Steel, and Steel Dyneema/Steel
Clear Quarter Packing Cube in colors Steel, Iberian, Ultraviolet
Packing Cube Shoulder Bag in colors Steel and Wasabi
Smart Alec in colors Black/Black/Steel and Black/Steel/Steel
Super Ego in Black/Black/Steel
Medium Cafe Bag in many colors, including Kelly/Navy, Burnt Orange/Navy, and Black Dyneema/Ultraviolet
Yeahh: the Night Flight Travel Duffle fits the Canon C100 Cinema.
And after having ordered both Synapses and made his choice, Ineffable was kind enough to post a thorough comparison of the two sizes (with photos, just a couple of which are below). See Ineffable’s full post here.