Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and the items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member haraya. The previous editions featured Forum members imahawki, Amy, Perseffect, jujigatame and bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?
Indispensable item: A classic Swiss Army knife (little blue thing in the center of the pic). I like the little 2.25-inch model with six functions, and my favorite tool on that model is the tiny pair of scissors. I use it all the time.

(I keep mine on a Key Strap so I can find it even in the dark. Key Straps — and their corollary, O-rings — are revolutionary! I may be slightly paranoid/over-prepared, so I have a lot of just-in-case items in my bag. Shopping bag, flashlight, bare-bones first-aid kit. I try to color-code straps if possible.)

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

What’s your most treasured item?
Gosh, this is a toss-up! I love both my Little Swift (Black/Fjord) and my Synapse 19 (Steel/Ultraviolet). My Synapse 19 tends to be my EDC for cool weather, as it gives me room to stash my outer layers while allowing quick access to things like keys and my water bottle. For warm weather, I love the easy access of the Little Swift. Key Straps help secure everything so that even if I drop my bag, everything stays together.

(And speaking of treasured… sometimes I debate whether or not to take my beloved TOM BIHN items, for fear I’ll lose them on the trip! But what is TB for if not for travel! Now I just hedge my bets by buying more than one thing in my favorite colors, haha!)

Treasured personal items I tote with me: I have a rotating cast of characters.

Wyldstyle lives on my S19. She and I both love purple and have an independent streak.

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

And I just got a new dragon-themed sleeve to protect my bokken (wooden sword used for martial arts training). When my son outgrew baby carriers, I sold my slings and bought my bokken with the proceeds. So to me it represents both motherhood and persistent practice. Does that make me Dragon Mom?

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

(Here’s my bokken ready to go in my Smart Alec. I stick one end into the main compartment, and thread the top end through the grab handle. This is the same way my son carries his baseball bat to practice. (For extra stability, I sometimes rig a keystrap between two O-rings inside the bag, and put the bottom end of the bat through the loop, to keep it from shifting from side to side.))

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?
In the category of “item you’re using in an unexpected way”: I originally got the Aeronaut Packing Cube to pack shoes when I’m traveling, but found that I preferred to pack shoes individually (so each one can go in a different spot in my bag) rather than as a pair. Then I realized that my hakama (part of my martial arts uniform) fits perfectly in the Packing Cube, as if it were designed for that purpose! I train anywhere from 2-4 times a week, so that’s a pretty regular gig.

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

(This is me at a weapons seminar last weekend. Playing with sticks is fun at any age!)

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

EDC item I use more than I thought I would: Titanium eating utensil (isn’t the word “spork” so ungainly?!). I got one to be a little more environmentally friendly, but have found that it’s good for more than just soup: it also cools off my to-go coffee faster, without leaving an after-taste like the wooden stirrers do. Also it doesn’t bend or break like a plastic utensil might. Plus, I just like the idea of carrying around a bit of titanium!

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

I tend to change up my EDC frequently depending on time of year or activity. I do spot in this photo a few things that I have acquired thanks to the wisdom of the Bihnions on the boards:

  • Jackery portable phone charger (orange rectangle) (bchaplin alerted everyone to a sale on these, which I had never heard of before, but I immediately loved the concept and bought four)
  • Photon X-Light Micro LED keychain flashlight (I think Darcy mentioned these. Tiny but fierce! They are great gifts — everyone I have given one of these has raved about how they carry and use them all the time)
  • Nite-Ize locking S-carabiner — hard to distinguish in the pic but I have one holding all my keys, and another that acts as an extender for the O-rings in the clear pockets of the little Swift, allowing me to clip more keystraps to one attachment point.

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

Portable Culture Portrait: haraya

Clockwise from top right:

  • Pens and eyedrops (and sundries, inside orange organizer)
  • Wallet (pink)
  • Small notebook (purple and white)
  • Checkbook (purple dragon)
  • First-aid kit in an Iberian organizer pouch
  • Nylon tote bag stowed in a burnt orange Q-kit
  • Protein bar
  • Reading glasses
  • Lip balm
  • Glasses cleaning cloth
  • Inhaler
  • Mascara
  • (in center:)Cord for charger + charger
  • (in center:)Sunglasses

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Like Captain Kirk, I was born in Iowa. However, I spent my formative years in a tropical country, and moved back to the States after college. So the concept of portable culture really resonates with me. When I moved back to the US at the age of 19, I brought two suitcases full of books, even though my relatives assured me I could buy all the books I wanted once I arrived! But that little library was my bit of home. Now I travel a little more lightly. A scarf, a familiar lotion – smaller things that nevertheless speak of identity as much as comfort.

I traveled a lot before we had kids, particularly during and right after grad school. For a while I traveled Monday through Friday for work, so I became an expert at doing the ‘clean and jerk’ with my rollaboard, even though I am under five feet and have to stand on a seat to hoist my bag into the overhead compartment. And on our honeymoon we had six pieces of luggage, including a guitar. At one stop, we took so long to load our bags that the bus took off with my husband and half our gear, while I was still standing by the roadside. (“Scusi, my wife!!”)

But for now I’m home with my kids, and ironically I’m more minimal now with my own packing. I almost always fly with the A30 as my main bag. It’s wonderful knowing I have everything with me should we be delayed, or I take a different route home. My next goal is to convert everyone in the family to carry-on only travel. My daughter’s already on board with the concept, now to work on my husband and son!

We’ve got lots of family trips ahead, I hope. Just visiting family alone spans two different continents – we have relatives in both southeast Asia and in Scandinavia. I’d love to expose the kids to different landscapes, different ways of living. We are fortunate to be able to see many amazing places. It’s also important to know that everything is interconnected – we aren’t just tourists, we’re citizens of the wider world.

Portable Culture Portrait: imahawki

Portable Culture Portrait: imahawki

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member imahawki. The previous editions featured Forum members Amy, Perseffect, jujigatame and bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?
I like to think of myself as a bit of a Boy Scout. Be Prepared. The things I carry, like multiple different style knives, flashlight, battery packs/portable chargers, USB drive, a multi-tool, and even a bottle opener fall into that category. In theory, given I’m an officer worker, live in a city, and drive to and from work, the most useful item I carry would be my iPhone. It certainly gets the most use of anything I carry. It keeps me connected, productive, and entertained. But after that, I pocket carry a Kershaw Ken Onion Chive which get’s a lot of use. Whether its opening a new delivery package, cutting a loose thread, or getting into one of those irritating clamshell packages, its one of the items that I use almost daily.

What’s your most treasured item?
This one is tough. It’s probably not something I daily carry. I don’t have a pocket knife that I got from my grandfather or anything like that. My main hobbies are photography, home theater, and fountain pens. Within those categories, I would say my GoldenEar Triton One speakers and Visconti Homo Sapiens Dark Ages are two of my prize possessions. But, I tend to be more utilitarian and unattached to things I own. I frequently seek better ways to do things or more convenient, practical, or comfortable ways to carry my stuff. Examples would be the Bellroy wallet which is extremely thin for what it holds, and the Orbit Key, which I find to be an immensely more practical and useful way to carry keys and a bottle opener than a key ring.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?
This might gross some people out but you’ll notice that I carry a pair of fold-flat Swiss Army fingernail clippers with me. That’s because I almost never trim my nails at home. I almost always trim them at my desk at work, usually when I’m on long conference calls. In my defense, I’m extremely diligent about collecting the clippings and throwing them in my trash can. But regardless, I use the clippers a lot.

Items shown in the main photo:
1) 2011 MacBook Air – I have a cache in the Synapse for it
2) Classic Snake Charmer with miscellaneous Apple device charging cables
3) MacBook Charger
4) Anker USB charger
5) Kindle Paperwhite
6) iPhone 7 Plus
7) Bellroy Low Down Wallet
8 )Tom Bihn Synapse 25
9) Fenix E05 flashlight
10) Victorinox Classic Swiss Army Knife
11) Victorinox Swiss Army nail clippers
12) Car Key
13) Orbit Key with bottle opener, USB drive, and 2 keys
14) Kershaw Ken Onion Chive
15) Mints
16) Anker SoundBuds Slim bluetooth earbuds
17) Klipsch S4i wired earbuds
18) Small organizer pouch with antacid, tissue, Leatherman Style PS (TSA approved), SOG FLASH II Tanto (not TSA approved)
19) Kaweco Classic Sport fountain pen and Lamy Al-Star rollerball
20) Medium organizer pouch with wet wipes, small first aid kit, and sternum straps for Synapse

Note: Items 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, and 14 are pocket carried.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up on a farm in Iowa, attended the University of Iowa where I met my wife, and I’m a die-hard Hawkeye fan. I majored in Management Information Systems and have worked in IT Risk for over 15 years (IT Audit and Operational Risk Management covering technology). I’ve always been a music and movie lover and in college I got into home theater and stereo. That’s probably been my most consistent and deepest interest, although my wife claims my hobby is collecting hobbies. Purchasing multiple Tom Bihn bags has contributed to her evidence. I’m married and have three daughters, so our travel tends to consist of family trips, including making it to a few Iowa football and basketball games. We’re also Disneyphiles and tend to either visit Disney World or do a Disney cruise almost every year. Outside of work and family responsibilities, I run the internet forum

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member Amy. The previous editions featured Forum members Perseffect, jujigatame and bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?
My Original Halcyon Side Effect. It is the perfect compact size to hold my iPhone 7 Plus in the outer pocket, keys, wallet, pens, tiny notebook, mints, and other purse stuff. It fits into every larger bag I carry, from the Co-Pilot (where it rides in a one of the outer pockets) to the Synapse 19 (bottom pocket) to the Smart Alec (clipped to the top of the bag via triangle clips). At my office, a mail order music education company, I wear it all day since I’m constantly walking around the showroom and warehouse, always needing access to my phone and notepad. When I exhibit at music trade shows, I wear the Side Effect so that I have quick access to business cards, phone, and all my tradeshow supplies. It’s small enough to never feel heavy or in my way. I *seriously* love this bag! I even have a second aubergine one that I use just for the gym, containing only my gym card, house key, phone, and headphones. It hangs over the handlebars in spin class, and sits under the risers or next to my mat in group classes. So handy.

By the way, contrary to my initial sartorial fears, the Side Effect can pass easily as a small unobtrusive purse, even in fashion-conscious Dallas. I have found that the original halcyon seems to go with pretty much everything I have, and because it is black and small, it kind of flies under the radar. The aubergine is a surprisingly versatile color too.

What’s your most treasured item?
That’s a tough one, because I have a houseful of treasured items steeped in memories, and I’ve got a thing for bags. I have a really cool leather suitcase that my parents bought when we lived in Panama in the 70s. In it, I store all my old journals which I have kept since I was 9 years old. I love opening up that suitcase and seeing the worn journal covers (I remember them all) that chronicle the adventures of my younger self. In case of fire, I’d grab that suitcase first (sadly it’s lost its handle– I might need to get a Yeoman duffel to haul it!). But on the other shoulder, I’d take my Aeronaut 30 stuffed with every one of my beloved Tom Bin bags including the Smart Alec, Co-pilot, both my Synapse 19s and Side Effects, and my assortment of travel trays and pouches.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?
The small Shop Bag. I don’t do a ton of shopping (my husband does 99%), but I really wanted to get one when the limited-edition Fjord blue was announced. Well, this thing goes everywhere with me now. It is a fantastic shopping bag, of course, but that’s not how I normally use it. It’s my daily lunch bag, thanks to its wide flat bottom that allows tupperware containers to lie flat without tipping, and the 2 big internal pockets which allow bottles to stand upright. It’s a fantastic carry-on bag, thanks to the ability to load it with a lot of large or awkwardly-sized stuff (blankets, pillows, ukuleles…). I love the o-rings, which let me tether all my stuff without fear of it disappearing, or attach smaller pouches. It’s so simple but just so incredibly versatile. When we visit my husband’s family in N. Ireland, walk to the shops and carry our wines and groceries home in this bag. Thank goodness (thank TOM BIHN) for those comfortable padded handles!

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

This is what’ I’m taking to work today: Synapse 19 in Nordic with my computer and work stuff, and a Small Fjord Shop Bag with lunch, ukulele, and a chair.

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Contents of my Shop Bag:
– Alite Mayfly chair
– Soprano Outdoor Ukulele
– Simple Outdoor Solutions ultralite cooler, containing my lunch

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Contents of my Side Effect:
Mini Organizer Pouch with bandaids, hair ties, Fenix E05 flashlight, Gerber Dime, Swiss-Tech Utili-Key, and nail clippers
– Chums wallet (cards on one side, cash on the other)
– Keys
– Tiny notebook, Stabilo pencil
– lip balm and mints
Not shown: iPhone 7 Plus (used to take this picture)

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Contents of my Synapse 19:
Main compartment:
– Macbook Pro in a cache
– Moleskine notebook with a bunch of work papers folded in it
– Ipad Air 2
– Music in Motion catalog
Left pocket:
– bunch of pens
– Knitting tool pouch with Adonit Pixel stylus and its charger
– Small double organizer pouch with assorted dongles, chargers, thumb drives, microfiber cloth, and tape measure
Right pocket:
– Small organizer pouch with Jackery charger and 2 cables
– Mini organizer pouch with earbuds
Small center pocket: keys
Water bottle pocket: iPhone
Bottom pocket: Side Effect

Portable Culture Portrait: Amy

Beloved objects
This old leather suitcase holds the journals I’ve kept since childhood– irreplaceable relics of my past. My Tom Bihn bags are my current day treasured objects and bring me joy every time I use them.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am the CEO of my family’s 41-year-old music education business, Music in Motion, based in Plano, Texas. We create and sell teaching materials for music educators and musicians of all ages. I am also a graphic designer, and have done work for print and web for the past 28 years. My husband, who is from N. Ireland, is an accountant and works with me. We travel whenever we get the chance–always carry-on, often back to the UK to visit his family, or to other pars of the country to visit our kids and family. I’m a ukulele fanatic and bring one with me everywhere I go (strapped to the Smart Alec), and have introduced my grandkids to it too. Fortunately, since I work in the music business, I am able to pass off my ukulele obsession as “research.” Ha!

Since discovering the TOM BIHN brand, I’ve become more conscious of a lot of other things that matter in the world of business as well as the world of things. As a designer, I’ve always been aware of the design and usability of the objects I use. The thoughtful design of all my TOM BIHN objects never fails to impress me. Even things as simple as the stitching, the direction of a zipper, or the fabric chosen for certain panels, all is there for a practical reason that helps make the object better. The designs are both innovative and timeless, both modern and classic. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of all the things that come out of the TOM BIHN factory. And I appreciate that they go back and visit those design decisions, and tweak them based on customer feedback.

But I am perhaps even more impressed by the culture of TOM BIHN, and the loyal following they have created. As a CEO, I’ve tried taking those things to heart in our own business. The loyal following that TOM BIHN has managed to create, without tricks or artifice or sales or giant marketing budgets, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve never heard a single complaint about poor customer service. They have a great product, and a great company. Prices are reasonable, and value is exceptional. They meet or exceed production dates and delivery dates. They communicate with their customers regularly. This is a company that I want to work with, and I want ours to be like.

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member Perseffect. The previous editions featured Forum member jujigatame and bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?
The most useful item I carry is a Qliplet, which I learned about through the TOM BIHN forum. I have four and one is permanently attached to each of my most used bags. They are so useful, especially when I am out with the kids. Being able to hang my bag off the wet ground is a lifesaver. And living in the UK, it’s wet a lot.

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

What’s your most treasured item?
My Fiio X5ii high resolution music player. I have always loved music but listening to it on a phone, although convenient, constantly bombards you with other notifications and distractions. This music player goes everywhere with me. No internet connection, no apps, no games, it’s just all about the music.

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?
Two things share equal footing here: my various-sized Freudian Slips and Matador lightweight picnic mats. I also heard about Matador Picnic Mats through the TB forum and have a pocket blanket and mini pocket blanket constantly in my bag. They are so lightweight and useful wherever I am—park, beach, festival, or picnic.

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

And the Freudian Slips just keep delivering—especially the Synapse 25 FS. It’s the one Freudian Slip I have that has big enough mesh pockets to swallow anything and I find the zip pockets with O-Rings at the top essential to keeping items safe and hidden. And for bonus points, it also fits in my Burnt Orange Daylight Backpack and also into my Tri-star if I’m one bagging it.

Portable Culture Portrait: Perseffect

Grey Synapse 25

  • All Rolled Up Game/Dice Pouch. I always carry some dice for playing if the kids get bored. I carry both standard dice and Story Cubes. Can you guess the theme of the fabric?
  • Doodle book and fineliner pens. Again, a healthier distraction for the kids rather than staring at an iDevice.
  • My trusty Converse All Star cap (for the occasional sunny day).
  • Small Organizer Pouch with Swiss Army knife, small flashlight and spare paracord.
  • Clear Organizer Wallet with membership cards and emergency cash.
  • iPhone 6S+ and thick case, which fits nicely into the Freudian Slip’s rear middle pocket.
  • Fiio X5ii music player (accompanying headphones not shown).
  • An iPad Air 2 would also normally be “naked” in one of the lower suspended document pockets.
  • Original Halcyon Small Shop Bag and Eagle Creek small Spectre pouch in the bottom pocket for accessories.
  • Matador Picnic mats.

Black Synapse 25

  • Laptop in Vertical Cache hanging from rails in rear of bag
  • Leather pen wallet for fountain pens
  • Tissues
  • Amazing French Blue seasonal TOM BIHN gift from a year or two ago—a Small Organizer Pouch with Portable Culture label, which has my phone and USB charging cables.
  • Security Key Fob ID token on Wasabi Key Strap so it doesn’t get lost.
  • Paperwork in the rear pocket of the Freudian Slip.
  • Medium Clear Organizer Pouch for receipts and paperwork when I travel.

I have three typical carry scenarios: day out with the kids, personal out and about, and work/travel. To cover all those needs I have a number of TOM BIHN bags, but one bag that serves many purposes is the Synapse 25—so much so that I have two of them.

Both are in Cordura as I love just how substantial the material feels and it looks great. No pets in our house to worry about pet hair. One is in a more formal Black/Iberian for work/travel and one in the absolutely amazing Grey/Ultraviolet for personal use. I’ve seriously considered an even bolder color such as Burnt Orange or French Blue, but love the Grey/UV.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Perseffect is my forum name and it’s short for Personal Effectiveness, the name of a blog I wrote before my current one. My one-bag travel needs led me to TOM BIHN about 4 years ago, originally to buy an Absolute Strap for a Patagonia MLC.

I live on the South Coast of the UK and travel extensively with work for an Multinational U.S. engineering firm. I work in learning, talent and organizational effectiveness so there is never a dull moment. I’m passionate about young people starting their career and write a blog with work tips at or on Twitter @careertosuccess.

When I’m not working, I spend all of my time with the family out and about as much as possible, hence the need for lots of bags!

Portable Culture Portrait: jujigatame

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member jujigatame. The previous edition featured Forum member bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?

The most useful thing for me is a good pocket knife or multitool. My favorite knives have always been Spyderco and Swiss Army (viva MacGyver!) for their consistent quality and functionality. I like to collect old traditional slipjoints too. At work I carry a Victorinox Alox Minichamp. It’s very capable and the small size is acceptable around everyone. I keep a small Leatherman in my bag because it’s nice to have pliers on hand.

What’s your most treasured item?

I suppose it would be the Seiko diver that has been my everyday watch for 10 years. It’s one of those things that is such a core part of my daily gear that I’d feel rather naked without it.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?

A notebook. A few years ago I got back into using a fountain pen and now I seem to accumulate small notebooks in which to write. Using an app for storing information is convenient but the act of putting ink or lead to good paper is pleasing, even relaxing at times. And when it comes personal notes or letters something handwritten is so much nicer than the digital alternative. I took that from my mother who always hand writes letters to her friends and enjoys fine stationery.

What’s your daily carry packing list?

I’m currently running an A30 PCBP with a Freudian Slip. It gives me a lightweight platform in which I can organize the items I use everyday in the way I need them. I can easily add or subtract other item groups with pouches. It carries quite comfortably and the Freudian Slip adds structure to the large compartment that I prefer for using it primarily as a backpack. Figuring out how to make a carry setup work for a given bag or by mixing different items together is something that truly interests me. I tend to geek out on cool hardware like buckles, clips, swivels and the like. I enjoy testing out how they can be used to engineer solutions. When you can come up with a formula that works just right for you it is pretty satisfying.

· Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack
· Large Cafe Bag Freudian Slip
· Work keys
· Nock Co. notebook
· Phone charger
· Mints
· Spare batteries
· Travel size deodorant
· Kleenex
· Work calendar
· Clairefontaine notebook (used for keeping notes on classes and training information at work)
· Victorinox Alox Minichamp
· Small Apica notebook (did I mention I accumulate notebooks?)
· Pentel Graphgear 1000 pencil
· Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen
· Mini organizer pouch (contains a flashlight and multitool)
· Sunglasses
· Small organizer pouch (contains earbuds, small first aid items)
· Bandana
· Mini Q kit (contains other sundries like chapstick, aspirin, lighter, moisturizer)
· Latest read (Masters of Doom about two of the guys who started id Software)
· Small TB shop bag

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a lifelong resident of Massachusetts and I work in customer service for Wegmans. I majored in history at Syracuse, which means I can write you a 3-5 page paper on pretty much anything as long as it’s due tomorrow. In addition to using and talking about bags I love movies, beer, tying knots, puns, baked goods, and the craftsmanship of well made objects. It is exciting to have the opportunity to share all of this with everyone. Tom Bihn is meaningful to me as a company, a product, and a community so I am happy to take part.

I’d been intrigued by Tom Bihn bags for a while, mostly hearing about what a great backpack the Synapse was, but never made the move to get one. Then in 2013 I had the good fortune to win a prize as part of a giveaway at EDC Forums and that prize was a TB Brain Bag. I was really blown away at how nice it was and while it did not end up being “the one” it got me hooked on the brand for good. I moved on to get a Co-Pilot and that bag clicked for me like few things ever did, as if someone knew how my mind wanted a bag to work and carry beyond even what I could have articulated if asked. I got a Small Café Bag, then a Synapse 25, PCSB, Parental Unit, ID, and just recently the A30 PCBP. Each time I try a new bag, pouch, or accessory I am fascinated with the designs and how it is all made to work together. You can’t use something that you don’t have with you and Tom Bihn lets me carry the things I need and want with me in a dependable and efficient manner. That can take a good bit of the hassle and headache out of everyday life. I feel such usefulness is worth its weight in gold (or 1050 Ballistic).

Tom talks about the idea that what you bring with you out into the world each day is part of your personal culture. A significant point about Tom Bihn products is that when you get one you don’t just get a great bag, you get a great company of people behind it and a community of people who share a passion for them. To me this means that the bag is not just an object. It is a connection. It connects you to the people that designed it, the people that constructed it, the people that packed and shipped it, and the people who own one just like it. Webster offers one definition of culture as “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time” and so having Tom Bihn products as part of our everyday lives and sharing the aforementioned connections is a culture. Perhaps not all of us are going to think of things in that way just from buying a new carry-on bag but I’d say it’s a good bet that once you set foot in the Tom Bihn universe and mix in that culture as a part of your own you will consider it a good and meaningful experience. I know I do and that Tom Bihn is a part of who I am going out in the world each day.

Portable Culture Portrait | jujigatame

An Interview With Liz Covart

An Interview With Liz Covart

It’s not an exaggeration: Dr. Liz Covart teaches early American history to thousands.

Through her podcasts, she enables listeners both in and outside of academia to learn from some of the leading researchers in the field and delve deeply into the whats, whys, and hows of the American past. Episodes of Ben Franklin’s World contain in-depth interviews with historians that focus on interesting historical figures, events, and places. In collaboration with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, she also produces Doing History, a podcast series about how and why historians study history.

Q: What inspired you to practice history in the particular way you do, via podcasting/blogging instead of through a traditional teaching/research position?

A: In 2001, I secured an internship with the National Park Service and that internship turned into a multi-year job as a seasonal interpretive ranger. While working for the NPS, I witnessed something I call the “David McCullough phenomenon.” When I started my internship, visitors to the Bunker Hill Monument and the Charlestown Navy Yard would inquire about how to get to Cheers or the Hard Rock Cafe, sometimes Fenway Park or Harvard. Only occasionally (at least that’s how it felt) would a visitor ask a question about the American Revolution. It seemed like a majority of visitors were walking the Freedom Trail simply because that is what you’re supposed to do when you’re in Boston.

The next summer, when I returned to work for the NPS as a ranger, David McCullough published John Adams. Over the next several summers, I witnessed more and more visitors asking probing questions about the American Revolution and showing a real interest in our historic sites. McCullough’s book sparked most of this interest. After 2002, many visitors prefaced their questions with a variation of “I never liked history, but I read John Adams because all my friends were reading it and everyone was talking about it.” Then they’d go on to talk about their new love for history and ask great historical questions.

David McCullough’s John Adams taught me about the power of communication. The way we communicate history is important. If we do it right, historians can get people excited enough about history that they’re willing to visit historic sites and read 700-page books about history. So I went off to graduate school with the idea that I wanted to study not just history, but how we communicate history.

When I finished graduate school, I realized that the best way for me to practice history was to embrace digital forms of communication. Honestly, I thought I’d research and write a lot of history books and articles while blogging about my work. However within a year of graduating, I discovered podcasts and became hooked on their convenience and intimacy. I quickly became a rabid podcast listener and when I couldn’t find a podcast about early American history to listen to, I decided to start one. That’s how Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History came to be.

Q: For the purposes of your podcast, how do you define “early America”?

A: I define early America broadly. The podcast focuses on the history of North America and the United States from just before 1492 until around 1820. However, the topics I cover on the podcast span what historians have come to call “Vast Early America.” Neither colonial North America nor the United States developed apart from the rest of the world. Events in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and even the Pacific impacted how the North American colonies and later the United States participated in politics and trade and developed their cultures and economies. So, I interview scholars about the history of early North America and the fledgling United States and about events, people, and ideas that came about in non-North American regions with eye toward seeing how the history of those areas affected early American history.

Q: Did any events from colonial America predict any political and cultural institutions we have today?

A: Most of us learn about history as a linear progression of events. Yet when you get into the historical record and examine the letters, documents, objects, and oral traditions of the past, you find that history is full of contingency. Nothing about how the history of the United States occurred was inevitable.

For example, the Continental Army and Patriot militia almost lost the Battle of Saratoga, the 1777 battle in upstate New York that provided the excuse the French needed to openly support the United States in its fight for independence, because the people of New England and New York squabbled over who should supply the soldiers with food and equipment. This dispute led to patriot soldiers not being well-equipped or fed and to state and congressional inquiries that distracted from the real issue at hand: General John Burgoyne was marching his army swiftly into the Hudson River Valley with the object of separating New England and New York from the rest of the colonies. If the patriots had squabbled longer or if the murder of Jane McCrea by Native Americans allied with Burgoyne had not happened to rouse the patriots out of their regional dispute, Burgoyne would have succeeded with his plan and the War for Independence would have been different.

With that said, the past and present always influence history. For example, the governments of the Greek and Roman Republics, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the Swiss Confederacy all influenced the shape and form of both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of 1787.

Q: Why is Benjamin Franklin emblematic of this time period?

A: Benjamin Franklin lived a remarkable life in a remarkable age. His life spanned most of the eighteenth century, from January 1706 to April 1790, and he took part in life and events in both North America and Europe. Most notably, Franklin participated in the Enlightenment and the American Revolution. He traveled to Canada, England, and mainland Europe and he shared his ideas in letters and publications that spanned those geographic areas too.

Franklin appeals to many in the present day because he worked as a printer, writer, scientist, postmaster, and politician and as a result of all this work almost everyone can find an area of Franklin’s interests or an aspect of his humor to connect to. History is about people past and present so it’s not surprising that many of us connect to history through people.

Q: What will modern listeners of your podcast find valuable about events from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America?

A: History is about who we are and how we came to be who were are. As Americans our roots are in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America and we can’t understand who we are today and how we came to our present-day circumstances unless we understand and grapple with those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century roots. Each episode of Ben Franklin’s World opens a window on to why people acted the way they did, why events turned out the way they did, and how places and ideas have changed over time. Most listeners enjoy how the past shows us how we are different from and yet very similar to the people of the past. They also enjoy discovering more about why we still face some of the same challenges people living two hundred and three hundred years ago faced.

Q: What about the podcast format works well for your subject matter, versus, say, a blog or YouTube channel?

A: History is about people and podcasts offer historians a great way to humanize the past. Humans have evolved in such a way that we still learn best through oral storytelling. Podcasts provide us with a very intimate way to tell oral stories. Think about the way you listen to a podcast. For most of us it’s by placing earbuds in our ears and inviting our favorite podcasters to speak directly into our brains when we press play. For others, it may involve inviting your favorite podcaster to join you for your daily commute; when you press play, it’s just you and them in your car. Regardless of how you listen, podcasts provide an intimate experience.

It’s this intimate experience that makes podcasts a great medium for conveying history. Most of us remember stories better when we hear them. The same is true for history. We remember it better and connect with it more when another human being tells us about it and invites us to explore it with them. That’s what each episode of Ben Franklin’s World invites listeners to do—join a couple of historians on a detailed investigation of some aspect of our early American past.

Podcasts also allow us to do more with our time. Unlike a blog post or a YouTube video where our eyes have to be glued to a screen, you can listen to a podcast anywhere. Podcasts allow us to turn the time we spend walking the dog/going for a run/cooking dinner/folding laundry/commuting to work into an enjoyable, enriching experience. Podcasts make history easy and convenient to explore and more memorable because of their spoken-voice format.

Q: What role do you see podcasts such as yours (as well as other media) playing in the dissemination of information that has traditionally been the onus of formal educational institutions?

A: Podcasts complement traditional media and make all historical work more widely available. Many historians convey their work in books and articles published by academic institutions. Unfortunately, these organizations can’t afford to buy shelf space in brick and mortar bookstores or run marketing campaigns to promote their authors’ work. Most of these institutions are small, non-profit publishing houses with shrinking budgets. As a result, many history lovers who would love to read more about history don’t know about the abundance of great work out there. And if they do know this work exists, they often wonder whether it’s worth their time and money to consume.

Enter podcasts.

Podcasts allow people to learn about history in a meaningful and personal way when it’s convenient for them. Plus by the time someone finishes a podcast episode they know whether or not they want to purchase and read a historian’s book or visit their historic site and exhibit. Podcasts help people manage their time better.

Q: As a researcher, blogger, and podcaster, what are your favorite analog and digital tools for writing, research, and general productivity?

A: I write about history in both text and audio on my 11-inch MacBook Air. My favorite apps include Google Drive, Evernote, Trello (project management), Zotero (citation management) and Scrivener. Scrivener has become my go-to writing program when I’m working on my book project because I can use it both as a program to write in and as a database to store all of my research.

I also take a lot of notes with pen and paper. I love the Circa notebook system from Levenger because it’s customizable and helps me organize all the loose paper in my life. I also have a Moleskine Pro Collection notebook for each of my big projects such as the “Doing History” podcast series I co-produce with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. I love the index in the front of those notebooks and I often find the best way to work out new ideas is with pen and paper.

Q: What does a typical work day look like for you?

A: I’m one of those lucky people who works from home. On editing days, I spend most of the day at my computer listening to interviews I’ve recorded and editing them so my guest scholars sound great and listeners will hear an episode that has a coherent, easy-to-follow story. Editing audio and producing a podcast episode takes a long time. By the time listeners hear the final version, I’ve invested about an hour of work for every minute they hear.

On non-editing days, I read books to prepare for new podcast interviews, answer listener e-mails, and conduct research for new episodes and my book projects in libraries. I view my Synapse 19 backpack as my mobile office because it carries everything I need to work away from my home office.

Q: What are some accessible but smart books about early American history that you like to recommend to non-historians?  

A: This is a tough question because there are so many, well-researched and accessible books about early American history!

If you’re interested in an overview of colonial American history, I suggest you start with Alan Taylor’s American Colonies. Likewise, if you’re looking for an overview of the American Revolution, his new book, American Revolutions: A Continental History, will provide you with a well-researched and highly readable book about the American Revolution. Nearly every history book you read will lead you to other fantastic works. Just follow the notes to find them. When an author notes something that interests you or makes a point that causes you to think, look at the note number at the end of the sentence or paragraph and find the note in the back of the book. When you find the note, you will be rewarded with a list of the books and articles on a topic that interest you.


An Interview With Liz Covart

Liz Covart holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Davis. In addition to producing Ben Franklin’s World and Doing History, she authors a blog on her website and serves as Lapidus Initiative Assistant Editor for New Media at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. She is currently working on two book projects. 

Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin

Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?

My Pocket Pouch. I need my work ID to get into the building, and I am somewhat legendary for having lost it as many times as I have. (In my defense, I’ve worked there for quite a long time.) Now that I keep the pocket pouch clipped to my carry bag, my work ID and transit card have a permanent home. The transit pass can be read via RFID and never has to be removed, and the work ID gets put back at the end of each day, which has become a habit now.

What’s your most treasured item?

Probably my tiny Fjord Travel Tray, because TB released that color only for a limited time and I just loved it. The small size of the Travel Tray is just right for my eyeglasses when I sleep in airBNBs or someone’s crowded guest room. I also use it for whatever other odds and ends I’ve collected during the day. Even if there are only a few inches of space on a nightstand, there is almost always someplace that fits it. I also find the color familiar and reassuring when I’m in a strange place; a little piece of home for me.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?

My clear-sided pouch. I think it may have been sold as part of a kit for knitters; I’m not sure. It holds my instant coffee perfectly. I really depend on this to get me going in the morning, particularly when I’m someplace that doesn’t have any local brew with the same strength. One of my worst travel moments was when I had stored the coffee in a nondescript white sack that blended in with everything else, and it slipped into the back of a wardrobe of a hotel room and was lost for a few days. So now I’m more careful about how I pack the really important stuff 🙂 This pouch is great because whatever is inside of it is highly visible. I’ve also used it for vitamins and meds, for the same reason.

TOM BIHN Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin and her Co-Pilot

Pictured is my Co-Pilot. I have it in a few colors. One of the other variants is actually a vintage steel/uv one that has the “portable culture” label on it. This black one is usually what I take to work. It holds a lot or a little and it’s not too heavy. The train gets very crowded, and the slim profile keeps it manageable.

Inside is
* my Side Kick, which is shown separately with all its contents
* bundle of keys
* some Tic Tacs
* general-purpose political button
* a lemon-flavored Luna bar that has seen better days
* pocket pouch with work ID and transit card
* iPad, notebook and study materials (which I only carry once a week, for a class)
* my inhaler, which I’m only using temporarily. In happier times the middle front pocket of the Co-Pilot can fit a water bottle or umbrella instead, or it gets left empty

TOM BIHN Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin and her Sidekick

Here is my Nordic Side Kick, a very kind gift from someone I met on the forums! This usually goes inside of a larger bag, but I carry it on its own sometimes. Typical contents:
* a wallet which stays clipped to one of the inside O-rings
* sound-masking Bose headphones
* a little notebook (Leuchtturm, my favorite)
* two pens
* Badger lip balm
* hand sanitizer
* Four Sevens MINI flashlight
* cash
* microfiber cloth, for glasses and phone
* Tylenol in a GoTubb
* a Tile tracker
* forgot to include in the photograph: portable charger

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I work in a school at Harvard that specializes in public health. About ten years ago, I joined a team engaged in a large-scale effort to improve HIV care and treatment facilities in Nigeria, which was a very exciting departure from being in a laboratory all day. I started traveling more, to West Africa and occasionally beyond. Though in all honesty the “traveling” part of that had its own steep learning curve for me. In 2010, when a tiny roller with my most essential stuff was taken from me in Boston and checked through–to my horror–all the way to Lagos, on a multi-leg trip, I suddenly appreciated the merits of carrying a small soft-sided bag too small to confiscate even when overhead space is tight. I think it was right about that time that I discovered the Tom Bihn company.

Even after a few years of optimizing, I’m sort of an average packer. What I find fascinating about the forums is reading posts from people who manage to easily fit all their things into 20 liter bags the size of the Synapse; it’s a lot of fun to see how they do it! I find that I need about 40 liters to be comfortable, so I’ll never be one of those super-minimalist travelers unless it is by dire necessity. Nevertheless, the forum is a great source of tips and information, and it’s taught me a lot about paring down.

The last decade or so of travel has given me more insight into other cultures than I would have gotten through any other means. When I first went to Nigeria, for instance, the actual experience was dramatically different than what I’d pictured; never mind that I’d grilled all my colleagues for information beforehand. And seeing it for myself started a sort of positive feedback loop, because once I had a more accurate mental image of that place, the people, and the way things worked, the books and news I read became more meaningful and informative, and it made me want to read and learn more. Of course, even now, I know I’m only seeing a small slice of life of a very complex and multifaceted country. I’m usually meeting doctors and laboratory technicians, hardly a representative subset of people. But regardless, I feel that traveling introduces me to a new reality in a way that no amount of reading on its own can do.

Around the same time I began going to Africa, a member of my family relocated to Brazil, and most of the rest of my close family are spread around the East Coast of the U.S., so I end up doing a few trips a year trying to visit everyone. One of the perks of working at a university is the generous amount of leave time! Once I got used to the idea that it was pretty easy and safe to travel to different countries, I started exploring as much as I could on my vacation time. Usually it’s one new country a year, but I look forward to it.

The Workspace Series: brendabethman’s Setup

Welcome to the Workspace Series—glimpses into the offices, desks, and other work and play environments of our Forum members and the TOM BIHN crew.

Forum name: brendabethman

What do you do? (If it’s your professional workspace, what’s your job; if it’s your hobby workspace, what’s your hobby?)

I work at a university directing the Women’s Center; I also direct the Women’s & Gender Studies Program and teach German and Women’s & Gender Studies courses. I’m also a knitter and this workspace encompasses both my professional and personal pursuits.

What sorts of things went into the planning of your workspace?

When we moved to Kansas City, I was still writing my dissertation and hadn’t yet taken up knitting, so this space was originally conceived of as a study. I had a larger L-shaped desk and a total of 8 bookcases. I finished the dissertation in 2009, but the room stayed mostly the same until I took up knitting around 2 years ago. As my stash grew, so did my need for storage space. At the same time, I was bringing home less work as I finally learned how to complete my work during the week in the office and take weekends off, so my need for a huge desk disappeared—and the need to find space for my stash finally convinced me that the books I’d bought to write my dissertation could find new homes.


After some experimentation, the room has settled into what I think of as three distinct areas: work desk, yarn winding/weaving area, and my knitting/reading chair. The work desk is where I pay bills and do any work from the office that I’ve brought home (usually grading). The yarn winding/weaving station is relatively new and I’m quite pleased with it as previously I wound yarn at the dining room table and would have to set up/take down the swift and winder every time I needed to use it. I also like that taking out the bookcases that were previously there gave me the wall space to finally hang the quilt I bought at a show a few years ago.

Under the windows, Kallax shelving and fabric storage bins from IKEA keep my yarn safe from kitties and dust.


What are some of the important items/tools in or aspects of your workspace? 

My favorite spot in the room (and possibly the entire house) is my reading/knitting chair. The chair is a Poang from IKEA and is super comfortable. I’ve got tables with good lighting and space for my coffee/knitting/books set up on either side and my Movable Feast that I use as a knitting bag sits close by as well. I tend to be an early riser, so most mornings you will find me here, getting in some knitting and kitty snuggle time before getting ready for work—it’s an excellent way to start the day and much better than my previous habit of immediately checking email.

My job can be pretty challenging and stressful. Having this calming space at home to relax in makes a big difference in my ability to cope with said challenges and stresses—and it’s the spot I long to come home to when traveling.


The Workspace Series: PaulT00’s Setup

Welcome to the Workspace Series—glimpses into the offices, desks, and other work and play environments of our Forum members and the TOM BIHN crew.

Forum name: PaulT00

What do you do? (If it’s your professional workspace, what’s your job; if it’s your hobby workspace, what’s your hobby?)

I’m a developer/support person, working on a bespoke software package that runs the back office for a large media company. Since late 2009, I’ve been working from home 90% of the time and this is my home office.

What sorts of things went into the planning of your workspace?

It’s very much the result of evolution, rather than a lot of upfront planning. It’s also a bit of a man-cave….

I used to work in an office in central London, staying in London during the week and coming home on weekends; eventually, a manager a couple of levels up worked out that I could probably do what I do while working from home—given a suitable PC, fast internet connection, etc.

I started out sharing space in our loft room with my partner, who was then self-employed and also working from home, but it pretty soon became apparent that we had very different—and completely incompatible!—working styles. So I relocated to what was then a bedroom, at the very back of the house and almost as far away from the loft office as it’s possible to get without leaving the building… and with two doors between us to keep the noise out! I still go to the London office every couple of weeks, which is where my Aeronaut 30 comes in handy.

Originally the workspace was jury-rigged in one side of a guest bedroom / library / storeroom, improvised from what was available. The glass desktop started out life as the toughened glass side panel of a decommissioned shower cubicle, balanced across a small desk we already had and another piece of furniture which has long since been thrown out.

Elements have been swapped out and upgraded slowly ever since—pretty much the only constant is change. Well… change and the bookcases, which originally came from a bookshop I worked in 30 years ago! One day I’m planning to gut the space and revamp it completely, but the upheaval involved probably means it will be a while.


What are some of the important items/tools in or aspects of your workspace?

Major requirements are that the room has to be quiet, with plenty of light. There’s a decent sound system if I want music, but to really concentrate I usually need peace and quiet. Open-plan offices filled with people talking on the phone all day are my personal vision of never-get-anything-done purgatory!

There are also lots of pixels of screen real-estate—one of my guiding principles has been “one can never have too many pixels.” The main work PC is a Lenovo in a docking station, driving 4 screens. I have my main workspace on the biggest screen, a secondary workspace on the second biggest screen, email on one of the smaller ones, and IM on another.

I often collaborate with colleagues over Skype or similar, with documents open on one screen and software development tools on the main workspace. This setup is good for doing technical reviews too, when I need to crosscheck several things against each other and can have lots of windows visible all at the same time.

If that isn’t enough screen space, there’s also my Macbook, which has an HD external monitor, Bluetooth keyboard, and wireless mouse. I can work from anywhere with an internet connection, on a laptop screen if I have to—but it’s a lot easier and quicker to do things on a multiple screen setup.

Both machines have webcams and can do video conferencing if required. They’re both set up so that I can just “talk at the screen” when on a call. Anyone who’s never worked from home would probably be surprised at how much effort it can take just staying connected with the rest of the team and maintaining a connection so that you don’t start to feel isolated. I spend a lot of time on Skype, Lync, Jabber videoconferencing or the plain old telephone. If anyone tells you that working from home is a bed of roses, remind them that roses have thorns!

I like to spread out, so enough desk space is a must. The current secondary desk is a motorised sit/stand model, so I can stand up and move around during the day. It also helps with a chronic back problem. The next change I make is probably going to be swapping the work screens onto the sit/stand desk and the Macbook onto the fixed desk. The ordinary looking office chair is actually an orthopedic model with completely customizable lumbar support—worth every penny for the pain it’s prevented over the years.


Regular supplies of tea (some sort of Assam or English Breakfast blend, with goats’ milk) are required, and are also appreciated by my office cat, Bailey. If I leave a mug unattended, my concentration is likely to be be suddenly disturbed by the sound of lapping as Bailey starts slurping the cold tea!

The window faces south, over the small garden at the back of the house, which provides plenty of light and a view of the outside world. Also quite a lot of warmth in summer, which the cats appreciate very much when sitting on the windowsill toasting themselves gently. When the world is grey and dark in winter, I rely on the lightbox on the desk: an hour or so a day with 10,000 lux of artificial light keeps the demons of Seasonal Affective Disorder away and helps me to function like a real human being between the months of October and March. Without it, I would just want to curl up in bed and hibernate until spring.

Finally, and perhaps somewhat controversially, my Pomodoro timer is a lemon!

An Interview with Jason Nelson

An Interview with Jason Nelson | TOM BIHN

Jason Nelson is a digital and hypermedia poet and artist, whose work playfully—and, at times, subversively—extends and re-shapes definitions of poetry, image, sound, and interactivity. He has a Master in Fine Arts in poetry and a Ph.D. in interface and digital writing, and teaches at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

His work, which he affectionately calls “creatures,” includes Vholoche (2007), an artwork that renders weather data as visual images, and Cryptext and NomenCulture (2015), interactive artwork/game hybrids that viewers/players manipulate via giant touch screens.

Jason has created two pieces of artistic work for us: see the One and Two (and make sure to move your cursor and click and drag!)

Currently, Jason is in Norway on a Fulbright Fellowship.  He sat down to chat with us about technology, creativity, and the artistic possibilities of driverless cars.

TOM BIHN Crew: How would you describe your artistic work?

Jason Nelson: This is always a tricky question to answer. Sometimes I roam into academic waters, using all the proper terminologies and appropriate references. But I prefer to think of myself as a digital creator, as an artist and poet who transforms all manner of technology into interactive and wondrous creatures.

So imagine if Dr. Frankenstein had combined the technical wizardry of the Mario Brothers with the strange writings of James Joyce and then coated it in a healthy dose of sketchy, messy Basquiat.

In essence I build curious creations from code and devices to reach into the back of people’s brains, and remind them that the surreal world is a lovely place in which to play.

Interview with Jason Nelson | Jason Nelson's Art

TBC: While recognizing that the distinction between interactive/static art isn’t always clearly defined, how has creating interactive art influenced the way you think about static art?

JN: In some ways I am envious of artists working with paper and canvas or stone and metal. And in other ways I feel horribly sorry for them.

Before I describe those two counter-points, let describe why I create interactive works. When I birth a digital creation I truly want it to be alive. I want it to respond and breathe, to coax the reader/player/explorer into pressing and moving, into thinking and reacting.

Additionally, I want my creations to mimic or reflect and reject or relate to how I experience the world. Despite our calendars and schedules or various categorized methods for understanding and ordering the world, our surroundings and societies and cultures are alarmingly messy and erratic. They continually change, improve and devolve. And interactive works allow me to build those kinds of messy wonders into my work.

Back to the first part. I am envious of traditional, “static” artists because their work will last beyond electricity, beyond changes in technology. One of the little-known difficulties in being an interactive artist is that our works often become obsolete within a decade. And by obsolete I don’t mean no longer interesting or beautiful. But rather they can become non-playable, un-openable due to changes in operating systems, or browsers, or devices.

And yet I also feel sorry for them, because I am able to play with sound, explore movement, tussle around color and texts, combine code and devices, robotics and game-play. My creative brain is continually eager to wander down new digital paths. So I could not imagine being locked into one or two or three media or mediums. Change will be the end and birth of all my digital creations.

Interview with Jason Nelson | Jason Nelson's Art

TBC: Some of your pieces require thinking in unusual ways, such as re-imagining written words as spatial objects. What are some of the challenges of creating art in a digital environment?  

JN: Working in the digital playland, certainly when exploring art and poetry, means a forever process of experimenting and rethinking the context and usage of any technology, from code to device. The result is that much of what and others create are truly “world firsts.” Of course, these aren’t those grand and newsworthy firsts like “the first people on Mars” or “the first woman to win the US presidency.” And instead it might be something as simple as “the first person to put poetic text and abstract art into a zombie game engine” or “the first person to create a death narrative generator.”

This means there isn’t a giant history to learn from and rail against or rethink. There aren’t centuries of techniques to emulate or a general cultural acceptance to revel under. Instead digital art, and particularly my brand of interactive art, tends to be always experimenting, always attempting or at least stumbling into new territory.

And while that might sound like a good thing, it isn’t always. Sometimes that forever new, and forever experimenting, can mean a lack of masterpieces, a lack of truly eye weeping, heart sinking, mind blowing creations. So the trick is to stay close to the experimental roots, while also attempting to change the human condition, even in the smallest individual way, through our creations.

Interview with Jason Nelson | Jason Nelson's Art

TBC: What role does play/playfulness have in your work and/or artistic practice?

JN: As you’ve seen/read, I’ve been repeating the word “play” or synonyms thereof to such an extent that you might think of me as a VHS player stuck on repeating the shortest movie in the world.

This is going to sound morbid. But stay with me. When we die—or rather, right before we die—if we are lucky enough to be able to reflect on our lives, we will largely remember those moments of play. Unfortunately, for many or even most, the idea of play has been firmly attached to games, sport, or childhood. And any other usage of the term implies something negative or trivial, such as “stop playing around!”.

With my work I hope to change that notion, to transform the idea of play to everything we do, starting with poetry and art. I see no reason why the idea of play shouldn’t be more powerful than how we view work or art. To me, other than love, Play is the most powerful act a human can do.

Interview with Jason Nelson | Jason Nelson's Art

TBC: Do you have any tools that you consider indispensable to your work?

JN: I know this might seem like pandering. But my backpack, my laptop bag is truly an indispensable item. I seem to work anywhere and everywhere. As I travel heaps and prefer to work outside rather than indoors, I need a portable studio, a creative place I can carry with me no matter where I go.

Let me give you an example. Currently I am in Norway on a Fulbright Fellowship for creative art and digital writing. So yesterday I went exploring and found myself on a nearby fjord. And as I had my laptop, various input/output devices, headphones, a blanket and some food/water, I was able to set up my portable studio in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Oh, and contrary to what some might think, I also carry a pen/pencil and paper. Batteries always die and yet the brain still wants to create.

TBC: It seems like your work resists the traditional binary of artwork and viewer, with the work sitting there passively to be consumed just as passively by the viewer. Why is interactivity important in your work—and, more generally, in everyday life?

JN: I am really glad you asked this question. Note my lack of sarcastic tone implies my gladness in genuineness. Well, there is always a bit of sarcasm in my voice, even in the most serious of moments. But I am glad you mentioned the notion of passive consumption. Let me explain.

Although I live in Australia (well actually Norway right now), I grew up on the plains of Oklahoma; my grandparents were farmers. And I often heard people complaining there was nothing to do in Oklahoma, and they shuffled about moaning about the ever-present boredom their small farming town crushed down on their brains.

But really, what they meant was there was nothing to entertain them, there was nothing for them to passively consume. Most people are raised thinking entertainment is something that happens to you, where you sit and watch other people doing interesting things.

Mind you, I certainly am guilty of binge watching quirky science fiction shows like Eureka or Fringe. But I prefer to think the world is filled with adventure. You don’t have to go sky-diving or visit tropical vacation spots or roam through a museum to find beauty and adventure. Everywhere around us something fascinating, something worthy of interaction and exploration.

TBC: The title of one of your pieces, I made this. You play this. We are Enemies., seems tongue-in-cheek to some extent, but nevertheless illustrates one possible relationship between makers and users of art—in this case, as antagonists. In your opinion, how should makers and users relate to one another (through the interface of the work, in theory, etc.)?

JN: It’s curious. IMTYPTWAE was indeed a response to those who’ve played/explored/read my creations. Six months prior to making that work, I had created an artwork called “game, game, game and again game.” And amazingly that work went truly viral (a bit of a cliché I know…but absolutely true in this case) with millions playing and sharing the work. However, as my art-game was so strange and unexpected, the responses from the users was very binary, either hate or love. And reading through forums or comment sections or the tens of thousands of emails I received testified to these extreme sentiments.

And it struck me that in some cases, certainly when it comes to experimental art or even more so with digital artists who rethink interfaces and game engines, the artist is unintentionally (or often intentionally (smileface)) attacking the user’s understanding of how the world works. Games are, in the case of IMTYPTWAE, supposed to look and act in a certain way. And when an artist and/or digital poet rethinks the format, people can either fall in love with the new creation or spew forth with great disdain.

I should admit, at first these extreme responses scared me. But really all it meant was that I was doing my job well as a creator, reaching and changing how people interact with the world (or screen and mouse).

TBC: Do you have thoughts about if and/or how your work will be preserved for posterity?    

JN: As I mentioned, this is one of the negatives of interactive digital art. However, if people really love your work, share it and write about it and remember it, then they will find ways to emulate your work for future users/players. Old Atari games are good examples of that. Long after they stopped selling Atari systems, people found ways to grab the code off thrift store-bought cartridges and then created small programs for others to play those games on their computers.

So I hope, one day, someone does that for my work when they can no longer run on everyday machines. Or, even better, they remix or rethink my work, borrowing from it and creating something new.

Having said that, I am somewhat comfortable with my work disappearing and existing only in books or articles. It just makes me want to create more.

TBC: With every technological advance, we find new tools and methods for creating art. What emerging technology do you think is poised to be instrumental in the “new media” of the near future?

JN: I think we have to be careful to not always be consumed with the New in New Media. Beautiful works can still be created with basic web code or remixing old films. And while the newest tech is seductive, it does not automatically mean an artwork has any power.

Having said that, I do kinda have an obsession with toying with ways to use whatever gadget comes around. So in my far-away dreams, or in the next few years, I want to tinker with mind-control interactivity using existing EKG brainwave controllers. Or I am pretty excited about large scale GPS works (note: I created a GPS based artwork last year [2015], long before Pokémon Go!) extending across the globe. And paper-thin screens you can fold and roll up have some fascinating possibilities for digital poetry.

And I’ve been secretly devising ways to create digital art and writing for driverless cars. Imagine what kind of art you could create for people in a small moving box when they don’t have to pay attention to driving. A car covered in projectors?!

TBC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve encountered lately?

JN: It is difficult to really and truly be weird anymore. Indeed, “weird” is always a relative term. So I would say the weirdest thing I’ve seen recently is the way humans from these collective, following clumps in airports or transportation lines. I watched a group just follow each other down a dead-end hallway and stand staring at a maintenance door. And they stayed there for 15 minutes before realizing there was no reason for them to be there, slightly stumbling away to wait in some other unknown clump.

Although there are some rather strange abandoned tunnels in Bergen, Norway. Heavy metal gates guarding large rock holes in the surrounding mountains, and the wind picks up the curious sounds of some underground creature just waking.

TBC: Technology and poetry seem at first glance to have an uneasy relationship—an example of the cold and mechanical versus the emotionality of humanity. Your work seems to play around with that a little bit.  Do you think that this characterization is shifting?  Why is it productive to bring these seeming opposites into conversation with each other?

JN: Damn. These are good questions. Partially it’s our system of classification that is at fault. We need to label ideas, to shove them under smaller and smaller umbrellas so we can file them away and order them into seemingly sensible divisions. And yet what I and others like me create defies these kinds of labels.

Yes, there are certainly people who feel poetry should be narrowly defined, and anything beyond that nomenclature is “something else other.” But really technology has always driven literature, from the stone to the tablet to the cloth to the paper to the press. And in each step we altered how and what we wrote. So it’s an obvious and yet painful (for some) transition into a contemporary version of the book. How we create and imagine, how we experience and communication is increasingly happening through these devices we carry. So placing poetry in that space seems an obvious choice.

Digital poetry is comprised of many texts, not just words but sounds and movement, interface and interactivity, coding and image, video and algorithm. All these become critical texts to a digital poetry, vital tools for building wondrous poetic creatures.

TBC: Your work has taken you all over the world. What sorts of things do you like to do during down time in a place you’ve never been before?

JN: Explore, explore, explore. I like to try and find the strange in the daily, the hidden beauty each places tucks away. After all it is the hidden beauty that brings forth magic. So I head out without direction or intention and stumble into the yonder.


To interact with Jason Nelson’s creations, visit his website.

Below: Jason’s Brain Bag in Bergen, Norway.

Jason Nelson's Brain Bag in Norway | TOM BIHN

News Briefs

EveryDayCommentary, Fatih Arslan, and Living One Handed have new reviews Nik’s Minimalist Wallet. Dominique reviewed the Synapse 19. Shoba Narayan reviewed the Aeronaut 30 + Synapse.

Early reviews of the Luminary 12 / 15 from the Forum community are in. See L15 reviews by logan_g, G42, Lia, anna2222, Quiltmama, and L12 reviews by marbenais, awurrlu and L12/L15 comparison reviews by Cristina, aedifica, bartleby.

The new Luminary 12 and Luminary 15 backpacks + bags in 210d ballistic nylon will be up for pre-order on 02/26. Details here.

Subscribe: Blog Posts

You’ll receive an email every time we publish a new blog post. That’s about 3-4 times a week.

Recommended Posts