iPhone Xs vs Pixel 3: An observational review

The iPhone Xs

I loved the design of the new iPhone X when it came out in 2017, but after trying one out for a week in early 2018 I decided to hold off for the next one.  My iPhone 7 was perfectly adequate at the time.  Then Apple introduced the iPhone Xs with a lot of subtle upgrades from the X including a new 512 gigabyte storage option, so I pulled the trigger on launch day.  I’ve now been actively using the iPhone Xs for almost four months and think I’m prepared to offer a brief review of it.

It’s really great.

Here’s what’s new or better coming from my old iPhone 7:

  • Better cameras on front and back with Portrait Mode, zoom, and 4k video
  • New “full-face” OLED screen
  • Face ID
  • Slightly larger
  • Upgraded internals
  • Louder speakers
  • Better battery life
  • Wireless charging

And a bunch of more subtle stuff.  iOS 12 adds a lot of new features as well but you don’t need a new iPhone for that, it works on all iPhones back to the 5S.

A lot of people hesitate to try out the new phones because of, basically, the home button.  They like the comfortable and familiar nature of it, the intuitive approach, and the Touch ID sensor.  Let me say that it didn’t take long at all for me to not miss the home button at all.  First off, Touch ID doesn’t hold a candle to Face ID, at least for me personally.  With my paper-thin skin, I was never able to get consistent unlocking from the fingerprint sensor, so most of the time Touch ID just meant having to enter a passcode.  Face ID means I have to look at the phone and swipe to unlock, and it works with wet hands, gloves, etc.  Sunglasses don’t throw it off.  Hats and helmets don’t either.  In fact, I can even be bundled up for winter kayaking with my Buff neck warmer and my half-cut helmet and it still works, although a full-face helmet obviously throws it off.  It works in the dark.  Bed can be tough if my face is half-buried in a pillow, but if I turn my head so my face is exposed it’s fine even sideways.  In short, I rarely have an issue unlocking with Face ID, whereas Touch ID was always hit or miss.

The gesture approach to switching apps is also an improvement.  With the old home button, you returned to the home screen or unlocked with a single press of the button, and used a double press to activate the app switcher.  With the new system, you return home or unlock with a fast swipe from the bottom, and access the app switcher by swiping up about an inch.  Now you can also switch apps just by sliding your finger along the bottom of the screen, which I find myself doing all the time.  It’s basically alt-tab for an iPhone.  Brilliant.  I love it.

Now, the other function of the home button was Siri, which has now moved oddly enough to the power button.  That means the new gesture for Siri was the old gesture for powering off the phone, and powering off the phone now takes a chord of two buttons.  But I got used to it quick and I think I even prefer it now.  Siri is her same old half-reliable self- sadly Apple still has a lot of work to do there.  But activating it is no problem.

The home key and Touch ID are the only things you lose going from an iPhone 7 or 8 to the iPhone X or Xs, or the new Xr.  Everything else is pure upgrade.  The screen!  Big and beautiful.  Now, “the notch” has a lot of critics, and here’s how I look at it: I don’t think of it as a notch taking away from the screen, I look at it as “ears” adding to it.  Think about it – on an iPhone 8 (and every previous iPhone), the screen cuts off below the earpiece and goes straight across, with the status par taking up about the top 1/8 inch of screen.  But with the iPhone X and up, you get two little bits of extra screen next to the earpiece and front camera cluster, and Apple has moved the status bar stuff up to those new spaces that used to be just plain glass.  More screen!  Not just the more screen up top, but also reclaiming the space that used to be status bar.  And the bottom is bigger too, with a whole extra vertical inch of screen between the two reclaimed areas.  That’s awesome!  And the screen itself is stellar – higher resolution than the 8 and 7 (although less than the + phones – get the Max for that) and because it’s an OLED, the blacks are totally black.

The display also has Apple’s True Tone color management, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you compare it against a phone that doesn’t have it, like the Google Pixel.  I find it impossible to describe but basically the colors just look better – it looks “right” and next to it everything else looks wrong.  Killer display.

So next I could talk about the cameras, and they’re killer.  Not just the back camera, which is outstanding, but the front camera, which is the best selfie cam I’ve ever used (although bested by the Pixel in one way – more on that below).

me and mountains
Selfie somewhere in southern California
Portrait mode with the iPhone Xs

I could post more photos, but you can just check my instagram, @whitewaterlawyer, for more.

So photos are great.  What else is great?  Sound quality for playing music and other audio.  Just great, not really much to say.  The weight and feel of the phone in the hand, although in full candor I use it with a Mous case and not bare.  The raw power of the CPU/GPU combo is great, although admittedly it’s just plain overkill – it’s more than twice as fast as the iPhone 7 which already ran all my apps very well.

There’s really only two things that I don’t like about my iPhone Xs, and both are inherent to all iPhones.  The first is the way incoming calls are handled.  Just flat-out awful.  When the phone rings, the call dialogue fills the screen and can’t be dismissed without either answering the call or sending it to voicemail.  If you don’t want to talk and don’t want to send a “you’re not important to me” message, you have to wait it out.  Not nice.

My other complaint is peculiar to my personal use case: my phone is buggy as hell, which I’ve figured out is due to a host of bugs inherited through my backup. I’ve had iPhones since an 8gb 3G in 2008, and every time I’ve gotten a new one, I’ve set it up by restoring all data from a backup of my previous one.  I do this to preserve the data in the 100+ apps I use, along with things like my accumulated text messages and photos.  But it turns out that over the course of many repeated backup and restore operations, the backup itself picks up little glitches, and because you can’t selectively restore, in some cases setting up an iPhone from a backup can result in weird behavior.  None of it is severe, but I’ve got weird glitches like options missing from my settings menus and search not always working right.  I haven’t yet decided these problems are worth the hassle of “setting up as a new iPhone” even though, at least, Apple has moved most non-app data into iCloud so I wouldn’t lose any texts, photos, or notes.  I’d just have to re-download and configure all of my apps one at a time, manually enter all of my email accounts, etc.  Not a fun project for a rainy day.

The Pixel 3

Because Who’s Ready will be launching first on Android, I found myself in need of an Android phone.  Now, picking out a new iPhone is pretty easy – you pick a size, storage capacity, and color, and that’s about it.  Picking an Android phone is a whole other matter.  Once you’ve settled on screen size and storage capacity, you might still have dozens of choices.  I wanted something similar in size to my iPhone and at least 32 gigabytes of storage, and needed something with the latest version of Android that I could keep up to date for a few years.  That sadly didn’t narrow it down too much so I just looked at what was on sale for Black Friday and read a bunch of reviews.  I almost bought Samsung’s S9 for $519 on the BF special on Amazon, but then I saw that Google was offering the Pixel 3 for basically half price on their Google Fi service – $200 off up front and a $200 service credit.  Fi works out cheaper than adding a line on Verizon as long as I don’t use too much data, so I pulled the trigger, even though I probably would’ve been fine with a cheaper Fi phone from Motorola or LG.

Some of this is about Android, and some of it is about the Pixel.  Because I’m new to Android, I’m not really sure which is which for some things.

First, a lot of the hardware is similar to my iPhone.  The dimensions of the phone are almost identical.  There’s no headphone jack.  The rear camera is single instead of dual, but the front camera is dual.  The screen is an OLED of about the same resolution but a little smaller since there are bezels on the top and bottom.

Some comparisons:

Camera – Both the front and rear cameras are on the Pixel great and while I personally think the iPhone cameras are better, a lot of reviewers feel the opposite.  I really like the dual front cameras, though – the Pixel adds a separate wide-angle selfie cam, which is noticeably wider than the iPhone and means it’s now possible to get great selfies with my dog which is really difficult with the iPhone.  The rear camera is single-lens so the portrait mode is not going to be as good as the iPhone.  I haven’t played with the portrait mode that much – I just don’t like the interface of the camera and found that when I had both phones handy, I usually reached for the iPhone.  But I did spend some time at the dog park shooting exclusively with the Pixel.  It takes decent action shots, but on the whole I was just not impressed.  It’s definitely not bad.  And maybe it’s the screen more than the camera.  But the images just don’t pop off the screen like they do on the iPhone.  Ultimately I see this category as a tie.

Screen – The Pixel has an OLED screen just like the iPhone, so it’s also got a high resolution and great true blacks.  Plus, unlike the iPhone, Android supports an “always on” display, so a portion of the screen is lit up with time and date and notification icons even when the phone is locked (sidebar, I don’t like the notification icons, more on that below).  But the screen lacks an equivalent to Apple’s True Tone, which makes it noticeably dull in colors in various settings when held next to the iPhone.  It usually looks a little more “blue” than the iPhone and is harsher on the eyes.

Interface – This is more about Android than the Pixel specifically, but I think it’s a big piece that has to be considered when choosing a phone.  The interface in iOS is just plain beautiful, and it’s impossible to fully appreciate the beauty and elegance of iOS without spending some time on Android.  Everything about it is polished and smooth.  I give particular credit to the screen fonts.  Text on the iPhone is crisp and soft in just the right places, with smooth lettering and perfect kerning.  Even fine print is clear and legible.  Not so on the Pixel.  Many have pointed out that Android supports custom fonts, but I shouldn’t have to customize a phone to get something easy to read.  The default system font is just harsh on the eyes if you’re looking at the phone for more than a few minutes.  This applies to everything you do on the phone – apps like Facebook and Instagram, every Reddit app, even just texting.  The font is downright jagged compared to the default text on an iPhone.  And you can’t customize it without downloading third-party software to modify the Pixel, which I’m just not all about.

Some things about Android are hands down better than the iPhone, but not many that I’ve noticed.  People say that notifications in general are better but I’m not sure I agree; the icon routine just results in a cluttered status bar and makes clearing notifications a mandatory chore instead of optional like on the iPhone.  But incoming notifications are unobtrusive, and here’s the killer – that even applies to phone calls.  When an Android phone rings, you can answer or send to voicemail like an iPhone, but you can also finish your text message or whatever else you were doing before dealing with the call, or you can look up some info about the contact in an app, or you can slide the notification away and let the call silently ring out.  That is excellent.

A lot of people love the customization that Android allows.  I do not.  I like being able to customize my devices, but I only care a little bit.  Give me a great home screen layout for sure.  But I shouldn’t have to spend time organizing my phone just to make it usable.  With the default launcher on the Pixel, you can’t just have all the icons you want on the main screen – you have to customize it, and you have to manually plant each icon on a screen.  They don’t automatically sort, they just sit wherever on the screen you happen to drop them.  You can add various “widgets” to the home screen, which is nice, but gimmicky.  I added the calendar, but it doesn’t work so well, partly because the built in apps often just suck.  I can’t figure out how to display multiple accounts in the calendar, for instance; in fact I’ve found the phone almost useless for email and calendar because of how user-friendly it isn’t.  I can’t figure out how to get it to default to an account other than the one associated with the Google Fi line, nor can you log out of that account.  I did eventually figure out how to add a second Google account but it wasn’t intuitive.  Very little about this interface is intuitive, at least to a seasoned Apple user.

Part of this customization is that while the phone comes with a baffling array of apps, many of which I don’t know the purpose of, it is lacking a few of the basics. There’s no voice memo recorder.  The notes app has a half-assed voice memo feature that’s supposed to suffice, but it’s “voice activated” which means it stops recording when you take a breath, and you have to look at the screen to use it.  Useless.  Apparently true Android users use Google Assistant to take voice notes.  I haven’t had much luck with Google Assistant – the phone has a gimmicky “squeeze to activate” feature where pressure sensors on the sides of the phone serve no function but to activate Assistant.  Why they had to use subtle pressure sensors instead of a good old fashioned button is a mystery to me.  But it just doesn’t work.  It’s impossible to activate it while the phone is being held in a dashboard mount, and half the time I try to use it, it starts to come up but then disappears before I can actually use it.  Ultimately, and ironically, it’s easier to use Google Assistant on an iPhone where there’s at least a screen icon for it.  I don’t like how this is implemented.

Speakers – the Pixel uses valuable front space for two large speaker grills instead of a bigger screen like the iPhone.  Yet in spite of that, the sound quality is crap.  Well, I don’t know, it’s probably better than a lot of phones.  But it’s not even close to the sound quality of the iPhone Xs.  It’s merely okay, which is again baffling considering how much showmanship they’ve put into the physical design of the speakers.  Maybe I’m missing something, but the same track on Spotify sounds tinny on the Pixel and great on the iPhone.

On the whole, the Pixel is a good quality phone with all the features you need, but in terms of polish and user interface it just doesn’t come close to the iPhone.

Update: Who’s Ready and other happenings

Every time I come to update this site I’m disappointed in myself for how far behind I’ve fallen.  So this post might be a bit of a belated catch-up.

Who’s Ready

My major new project for 2019 is a new social networking app called Who’s Ready.  I’ve got a whole web site set up about the app, at www.whosready.app, along with a facebook page at facebook.com/whosreadyapp, and some other social media as well.  So I don’t have to tell you everything about it right here, but maybe I should tell the story of how it came to me.

If you’ve been following this page or the other places where I narrate my life, you know that I travel a lot and that my main passion in life is outdoor activities – mostly whitewater kayaking, but a few other activities as well.  Whenever I find myself in a new place I want to get out and explore, at least go for a hike, and I often wish I had company to do it with.  I struggled for a while using Facebook groups to find activity partners, but I find the solution woefully inadequate for many reasons.  I wanted a way to just push a button and find nearby like-minded adventurers, and didn’t understand why in 2018 there isn’t an app for that.  So, I decided to build it.  My financial situation improved somewhat in 2018 and I finally had the ability to start financing other projects beyond my law process, albeit just barely.  So I wrote up a complete design spec for the app, worked on finding a name (a more difficult process than you might imagine), went looking for a programmer, and formed a corporation.  I found a programmer who could build the MVP version of the app for a price I could afford, and set up a contract.  At this point we’re behind schedule but hopefully within a week or two of having a product in the Google Play Store, and within a few months we’ll be on the iPhone as well and charging forward with more features and a viable business model.

I’m excited and terrified about this new venture.  Once again, I find myself in a role I’d fantasized about but had never visualized actually achieving – first that happened with my career as a lawyer, and now with the role of “software CEO.”  Wow.  Of course any fool with a checkbook and a pen can become a CEO by starting his or her own company, it’s meaningless until it translates to actual success, and we just aren’t there yet.  There’s a lot I’m going to have to do to get this thing off the ground.  Building it is just step 1.  I also have to market it and get people to use it.  Because it’s a social app, its success and utility are 100% dependent on how many people decide to download and use it.  It will be more fun and more useful with a million users than with a hundred users.  So my job, and it’s a big job, is to accelerate the growth of the user base as quickly as I can, to create a great experience for users.  That means advertising, attending events, and talking to people.  It’ll be fun, but it’ll still be hard work, and there will be a lot of disappointment and frustration along the way.

I’m super stoked about it.  Check out the web site and Facebook page today, and hopefully by the time you’re reading this you’ll also be able to download it on the App Store of your preferred platform.

Birthday in Yosemite

What a long strange trip it’s been!

Some of you may have heard of GoRuck. They make backpacks, and to sell more backpacks they invented the sport of “rucking” and started hosting “GoRuck challenge” events in various cities. So they’re known among the adventure/obstacle racing circles and have been on my radar for years. Their bags are highly optimized for air travel, sized well to serve as carryons, particularly for “one bag” travel.

Considering how much I fly, I’ve wanted one for a while. So when a little bit of unexpected money came in a few weeks ago, I decided to indulge. With free shipping and the military discount, their flagship GR1 bag came to about $225, a sum I could reasonably manage out of my recent “found money” pool. I received the bag and excitedly packed for my first travel ordeal with it, a series of single overnights back and forth between Western NY and the south.

Sadly, the bag underperformed, although by only a little. It turned out that an overnight business trip with my recreational items added (suit, dress shoes and hiking boots, dress shirt, change of base layer, toiletries, laptop, chargers and cables, other electronics,bathing suit, towel) just barely fit in the bag, not leaving room for food, and with some access and organizational problems.

Of course the solution was obvious: upgrade to the slightly larger GR2 bag, which has the same height and width but is much deeper, yet still supposedly sized to fit under an A321 seat. I decided to upgrade my bag, but since I got such a great deal on it, it made more sense to resell than return. I listed it on Reddit, priced modestly at $15 more than I paid for it, plus shipping. I got a few replies but one intrigued me: would you trade for a 34l GR2? Since that was my exact ultimate goal, it was a resounding “hell yes.” So we started planning the exchange. But how do two adventurers swap gear without meeting?

A few ideas were floated but none that solved the trust problem. I could cover shipping, that’s fair since I’m getting the better deal, but that means I’m shipping my $300 bag to a stranger in the blind hope that he ships it back, with no real recourse if he doesn’t.

He texted me from a number that my phone identified as “San Francisco.” That was a little intriguing if unsurprising; seems like half of Reddit is from the Bay Area. But so are a few of my friends. Real friends I haven’t seen in years. And I was just sitting around wishing I was on a trip in my RV, but stymied by a waiting period on a loan. So I posted to Facebook and messaged people, checked JetBlue, and sure enough I could throw together a trip on miles. So I headed to San Francisco to trade backpacks.

The trip was not without snags. Delays stacked on delays and eventually I arrived at SFO around midnight – apparently after my rental car agency closed for the night. There was one agency left open, and by my math the line would be going a good three hours, assuming they really had a dozen cars. Dan messaged me on Facebook. “You okay? Need rescue?” Yes. So I took a $35 uber to his place, listening to Muslim propaganda along the way in a car with disturbingly detuned headlights.

And Dan and I talked well into the night about all the things we needed to talk about, and it was good, and then I left for three hours on a quest for a rental car that involved some walking, some Starbucks budgeting, a train, a good deal of hiking, and finally a “fuck it, I’ll get an uber” for the last four miles. Then a hell of a shuttle, then another line, then a Jeep, and then hauling ass to the drop point.

Louis was waiting for me at the mall. I don’t know Louis, but we’re social media friends now. He wears scrubs so he must do something medical. Maybe he’s a doctor but I didn’t ask. The exchange now included a second bag, a GoRuck Bullet, and cash. We swapped, played with Venmo on our phones, and parted ways.

I had a few small missions planned in San Francisco proper. First lunch, at a little Mexican place Louis recommended. Good burrito. Next REI to exchange Christmas socks (wrong size) and top up camping gear – a way to secure my sleeping bag to the GoRuck and some camp fuel. Then Safeway for groceries- apples, granola, beef jerky, and of course water and beer. Then the road to Yosemite, showing… 6 hours? How did it go from 3 to 6? I underestimated traffic it seems.

So instead I decided to meet Gabe last night and embark to Yosemite during daylight the next day. Gabe told me about a place for a little hike along the way where I could try out my Bullet Ruck and not skip leg day. I logged just two miles but caught a beautiful sunset in a surreal pasture of hills adjacent to affluent suburbs. Feasted on In-n-Out burgers, then sleep.

Work woke me this morning as usual. I spent some time on various obligations and felt productive. I’m not really on vacation after all; I worked in the airport and on the plane and wherever else I get the chance. After all the nominal purpose of this mission is to make future business trips more efficient. After work and another gratuitous shower I got an indulgent California breakfast ?$15 pancakes) and headed east.

I finally arrived at the park gates at 4 pm, and received my coveted lifetime pass instead of paying. And was told that my plans were all wrong. I would need to head to the valley campsites and hope there was a spot left. There was, and I walked in the door for it at 4:58, the nick of time. I found the spot and quickly took off in search of a trailhead. Hiked through the sunset and got some mediocre pictures, then to camp to set up.

It’s funny how sometimes the best parts just don’t translate well to writing. That short hike was powerful. And yet it was private. It was my own experience, shared perhaps with millions judging by the well-worn rocks. I came back rejuvenated. What have I been missing? This is something I needed. I am glad I came.

So I came back to the campsite and set up my hammock. Had some challenges with equipment failing but in the end it worked out. I crashed a campfire and chatted with a couple from Berkeley who come here often; they gave me a drink. I needed sleep and took it, and I am now recovering from my second wind with the help of Ambien. Goodnight.

Business travel essentials, part one: Packing

The frequent flyer’s handbook part one: The business trip packing list.

One part of my work that I really enjoy is traveling to cover cases all over the country. This is usually a service I perform as a contractor for other attorneys when their clients move to a different area, but I sometimes encounter the same need for my own clients and do it myself. That means I go on a lot of very short business trips, as little as 24 hours, and I fly a lot more than most people, often twice a month or more.

So let me share some tips from a frequent flyer. Note that your needs may be different from mine, but for the attorney on business travel, this should be a helpful guide.

Luggage

Most airlines allow travelers to carry two bags on board the plane, and require additional bags to be checked to the baggage compartment, usually for a fee. Checking baggage is a hassle and a risk, so I try to avoid it except in special circumstances like a long trip or if I’m bringing bulky gear like kayaking or skiing equipment.

Most frequent flyers use rolling luggage as a carry on, and if that’s what you want to do it’s not hard to find good luggage suited for the purpose. However, I have found rolling luggage to come with a lot of downsides, and after years of trial and error I’ve switched to using a backpack instead. Why a backpack? The main reason is that it’s much easier to carry around the airport, especially if you need to run which is inevitable once in a while to make a short connection in a large airport. The next advantage of a backpack is that it more easily fits into the smaller overhead bins common to the smaller airplanes that fly into more remote airports. Finally, since backpacks are less common on planes than rolling luggage, it’s much less likely that someone else will accidentally take your bag.

Now, backpacks vary a lot, and it’s easy to spend a fortune on a good travel backpack such as the GoRuck GR1 or GR2, but I haven’t found that necessary. What’s nice about the GoRucks is that they are shaped like conventional rolling bags, which makes them easy to pack and they hold a lot, but I’ve found that a simple student-type backpack is more than sufficient for most trips. I use a low-end North Face bag that I bought for $30 at a climbing festival. Before that, I was pretty happy with the Eastpack school bag I bought for college in 1999. A large backpack holds more than the largest rolling bag that would fit in the same space, but can be stuffed into a slightly smaller space, so you can freely use a relatively large day pack. I don’t recommend larger “backpacking” backpacks, but they may be acceptable for longer trips.

The second bag should be some variation of a laptop bag. I use a courier bag from REI that provides good storage for a laptop and basic business needs and then some. Check with your preferred airline for recommended dimensions and ideally get something that fits your volume needs but still fits under the seat.  I don’t personally recommend spending a lot on this bag, but to some professionals image matters, so buy whatever you like.

What to bring

Again this is assuming a short overnight business trip of just a day or two.

In the backpack or rolling bag:

  • Change of clothes (base layer) and work shoes
  • Hygiene supplies – some like to rely on what hotels provide, but I prefer my own shower supplies so I bring that in a ziplock bag, along with toothbrush and toothpaste, nail clippers (you never know), a small bottle of mouthwash, and optionally a small “sample” bottle of cologne. Personally I don’t shave, but if you do, bring just a razor; most hotels have shaving cream available for free. Oh, bring deodorant; hotels rarely have any to give you. I get my toothpaste from the hotel front desk periodically; I have never bought a travel tube of toothpaste.
  • Recreational clothing – most trips include at least a few hours of downtime and I prefer not to spend that wearing a suit, so I tend to bring comfortable clothes if I don’t wear them to the airport (see below). I usually bring a bathing suit as there’s usually a hotel at the pool even if it’s not a beach destination, and I’m often traveling from Buffalo in the winter. Bring your own towel if you’re planning a beach trip; you may not be able to use one from the hotel depending on your checkout time.
  • Sandals – flip flops are great to wear in hotel showers and to the pool or beach.
  • Medication – if you are reliant on any kind of medication, I recommend keeping a few days supply in each of your bags.

And that’s it for the backpack, unless you have a special need or desire; there are no set rules here.

The smaller courier/laptop bag

The second bag that shows under the seat in front of you is more critical, and I try to fit as many of my essentials in it as possible.

Your mobile office – for me, this consists of quite a few items:

  • Laptop (in a neoprene sleeve)
  • Laptop power adapter and cord
  • Portable scanner – less essential now that phones can scan but still nice if you expect to receive documents
  • Power cords and adapters for phone and headphones, and for your smart watch if you have one
  • Flash drive (several in my case)
  • Any adapters you might need (especially if you have one of the newer USB-C laptops)
  • Any paperwork you will need for the trip – best to print it in advance as hotel facilities are unreliable

Other electronics:

  • Bluetooth or wired headphones- these are really essential for longer flights
  • Portable power pack – every frequent traveler should own one of these. You’ll use and rely on your phone more while traveling, and if you use Bluetooth headphones they could die over the course of several flights. If you don’t have one, grab a cheap small one on Amazon, but get one big enough to charge your phone a few times.
  • Car charger – I use a dual USB lighter jack adapter to plug my phone in to the rental car. It’s less essential now that most cars have a USB port, but you can’t rely on that as you never know when you’ll be stuck in a 2013 Elantra.
  • Aux cord – in case you get stuck in a car without Bluetooth. Most of them at least have an aux port.
  • Vent clip phone holder – to hold your phone in view in the rental car for navigation

Optional electronics:

  • Kindle or tablet- I used to carry these to use in flights, but I don’t anymore. I now consider it dead weight but if it’s worth it to you, bring it.
  • GPS unit – I use my phone, but if you prefer a stand-alone unit it may be worth the space and weight to you.
  • Ezpass – it’s not a bad idea to get a spare to keep in your travel bag. In certain areas this will save you on tolls versus renting one from the rental car agency. On the other hand it really sucks if you forget it in the rental, and the more you have in the car the more you can forget.

I don’t carry these last few items, because for my needs it’s better to keep it simple, but do what works for you and you decide what’s worth carrying.

Clothes: I pack my work clothes in my work bag for a few reasons. They’re less likely to get wrinkled there than in your backpack, and this bag is less likely than the bin bag to get lost or stolen. If you lose a bag, you want to minimize what you need to buy on site, and the last thing you want is to be scrambling for a replacement suit at 8 AM before work.

So my suit pants and dress shirt get folded and go in my courier bag. I put them in a plastic grocery bag for more protection. My tie also goes in this bag. Socks and base layer go in the other bag; in an emergency I can just keep on what I’m already wearing.

Medication: you should have a few days supply of any essential medications in each bag, including “PRN” medications, and OTC essentials like Advil or Aleve and motion sickness pills if that’s your thing. Imodium and antacid are a good idea too.

Secondary ID and form of payment – Losing your wallet on the road is a nightmare, and in some cities and airports business travelers are targeted by pickpockets and muggers. I keep my passport and a backup credit card in my courier bag.

On your person:

Clothing- I dress oddly for transit. I wear my sneakers, comfortable casual pants, a t-shirt, my smartwatch, sunglasses, and my suit jacket.

Why the suit jacket? It’s almost impossible to stuff it in a bag without wrinkling it, short of using an absurdly bulky and expensive garment bag. Plus it has pockets and comes off easily, so it spares me from having to unload pockets at airport security. Trust me, this will save your time. And it’s a cool look.

In my wallet I have the two most essential “optional” items: my Nexus card for the TSA Precheck security line, and my American Express card.

I can’t sing the praises of TSA Precheck enough. You can buy into it as a stand-alone product for $25 a year if you have an enhanced driver’s license, but you get it for free with a NEXUS or Global Entry card, which is just $50 every five years and also speeds you through the US ground border crossings.

Similarly, I can’t get over American Express for business travel. Which Amex is right for you is a whole other article, but I am not aware of any card that beats them for transaction tracking, fraud protection, travel perks, and loss protection. My favorite feature for business travel is how easy the web site makes it to generate expense reports for client billing. If someone else is paying your bills, there’s no other card that comes close. And if you get one of their premium cards a lot of other perks kick in, like free rental car insurance, life and injury insurance, travel bookings, and of course reward points.

I don’t travel with much cash at all if I can avoid it, but if it makes you feel safer stuff a few 20 dollar bills in a hidden spot in each of your bags. A little cash is nice to enable things like eating at street vendors, but I seldom need it, and for tracking purposes I prefer to spend every dollar of a trip on the Amex anyway. However it’s a great idea to have a few dollars in quarters in your bag for city parking.

And that’s about it. If you use this as your packing list for business travel, you’ll be lean and fast at the airport while having everything you are ever likely to need.

Called myself out in a bar

2017 10 10

I’m sitting in a bar in Palm Beach where I just had a conversation with a lovely young woman who claimed to be a writer but admitted she had no real reason not to be committing to her writing except she’s afraid to take the plunge.

I told her about what I’d been doing. I told her about meeting EJ and embarking on a voyage toward life without compromise. And in doing so I inadvertently insulted her, but I also condemned myself. Why am I still compromising so much?

I know the answer. It’s economic necessity. It’s temporary. I know my priorities, and I know that what I need to do to serve them is pay off my debts by practicing law, and that means doubling down on the current path for a known portion of the future.

Close your eyes and envision your fantasy life, the life motivated by happiness and not the life motivated by economic necessity. What does that life look like? I know the answer for me. I’m living on the road, with a partner, raising a child, practicing law winning cases and helping poor people while kayaking several days a week. What’s your answer?

Thing is, there are parts of my vision that are out of my control, but only parts. There’s nothing that I could do to forcibly find a partner, but the rest of the vision is firmly in my control. And I know exactly what I need to do to get there. I need to start marketing in places I want to go. I need to obtain a suitable van. And I need to pay off my debts, or at least enough of them to drop my monthly cost of living.

The path is clear. It’s simple. To get from here to there, I need to earn about $400,000 beyond my basic living expenses. That means that I need to win 100 full-fee cases if I’m still with Ramos, or 67 full fee cases on my own, or 200 with outside firms. I know my approximate win rate without screening – better than 50% on average, higher if I’m picky about cases, lower if I keep choosing to take tough case.

So I need to handle 140 cases on my own, or up to 400 with fee splits. Along the way, little things like per diems can help or they can waste time, depending on where the workload falls.

Interestingly, I believe that at “full capacity” I could reach this goal in as little as a year at an insane pace, five years at a diligent pace. There’s no reason it needs to take longer than that.

So this barside conversation reminded me of what I need to be doing. I need to be doing everything in my power to maximize my case load while making subtle changes to edge toward the ideal vision along the way. I need to start getting cases near rivers. And more of them. I need to detour some money into buying the RV. These are all simple things.

So what’s step one?

Commit.