Using my Bobby Compact under real life conditions

I felt I had enough with constantly heavy traffic, numerous hours lost behind the wheel feeling bored and helpless so I decided to start commuting to work by public means of transportation: The suburban railway of Athens started a new, direct route from Airport to Piraeus (no change of trains required) and it looked like the perfect alternative. The route takes about 1 hour, and I make good use of this time: I usually plan my day at the office by organizing tasks, reviewing documents and going through work-related material. I also have the option to relax and read my favorite books or even do nothing when I am tired.


I almost instantly switched my backpack back to the XD Design Bobby Compact, as it was the perfect gear for a crowded commuting mean like the suburban railway. Indeed, this is the environment where the backpack shined and showed its advantages over traditional ones. I was never afraid to wear it on my shoulders with other passengers behind my back thanks to its anti-theft design, the monthly pass card slot now proved useful and handy (compared to when using the same backpack when driving to work), and since the backpack holds its shape even when half-empty, I could easily let it on the floor without it falling to the side.

It felt light and comfortable on my back while walking from the station to the office (a 10-15 min walk), I had easy access to its contents even while on the road and its integrated rain cover proved useful during a couple of thunderstorms. On top of that, it forced me to pack light and be really selective about what to pack (and how to efficiently pack it).

However, after three months of daily use, I had to give up again…the reason? Its limited capacity.

I spend about 12 hours on a daily basis away from home (including commuting and working hours), so my lunch box and a couple of snacks (e.g. fruits, crackers etc.) are essential items for me. No matter how many different alternatives I tried, I couldn’t find a decent lunch box that would fit standing straight in the backpack. I wouldn’t want to risk putting it on the side, as any liquid inside it (e.g. oil, sauce etc.) might leak – and no matter how well I would protect it (e.g. inside plastic bags), any leak would affect not only the backpack itself but my work material inside it as well. I had the same problem with my Tech Air backpack, which was also relatively slim to fit such items.

lunch box office

On top of that, its limited capacity did not allow me to carry the occasional unexpected items with me (e.g. a couple of grocery items, a thick book etc.) on my way home from the office. I felt restricted and I had to find an alternative. I temporarily went back to my trustworthy Sentio backpack, which has a great capacity but suffers from its thin material and lack to hold its shape. And it is annoying (and looks awful) when at the office or during business meetings.

What I needed was a more spacious backpack that would fit not only my lunch box but also some additional (and bulky items) when needed, with some (at least) antitheft design elements and organizational options.

It was a matter of days before a brand new backpack joined the rest of my collection 😉


On the importance of hypermiling

On the importance of hypermiling

Are you familiar with the hypermiling concept? It refers to maximizing the fuel efficiency of your vehicle – and when you are like me and have to drive about 80km per day to and from the office, then this is really important. But let’s take things from the start:

I recently had to change working environment and since I do not own a car, this led to an increase in commuting time (using public means of transportation – PMT) from 35-40 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes. Ouch! With the current situation, I have to take a bus, suburban railway, metro and then walk for 15 minutes to get to the office. On the other hand, the route is about 40km by car (plus 40 km to get back home), so it would be quite expensive to drive to work (now that gas price reaches €1,5/L). However, after commuting to work for about 3 weeks, I almost collapsed…too much time wasted, too much time rushing to catch the bus/suburban/metro on time, too much walking under 30 Celcius, too much time wasted waiting to catch the bus/train/metro…

Then an unexpected gift arrived; my father offered me his Honda Jazz 1.4 / 83 PS (2007 model), with an automatic gearbox, for a few days, until we found a solution with another car. At first I was relieved that I would have a break from using PMT and then I started wondering about the cost of driving to and back from work.

Honda Jazz

I defined my strategy as follows: I would only drive the car in fully automatic mode, would avoid accelerating and braking suddenly, would not use A/C and drive as calmly as I could. Indeed, I started driving to work last week, trying my best to reduce fuel consumption. Honda Jazz is an amazing car with an amazing and efficient engine, so I managed to drive at about 2,000 rpm all the time.

The result was an average fuel consumption of about 5,5L/100 km, despite the awful traffic that I find in about half the route! After 5 days of driving to work (and some additional short drives) I have only used about half fuel tank  which is much better than I expected. If there was not for the heavy traffic (and we mean heavy; I can see pedestrians passing by faster than us for quite a long part of the route), the fuel consumption would have been much better.

I will have the opportunity to check the fuel efficiency of the car for a bit more, as my father was kind enough to give me a small extension (keep in mind that PMTs are usually on strike during these weeks, so commuting to work would be unbearable). I just hope that the car will prove to be so fuel efficient in the next days, too.

Τα κόκκινα φανάρια

Γιατί θα πρέπει η παραλιακή, την οποία χρησιμοποιούν χιλιάδες οδηγοί καθημερινά, να έχει σε κάποια σημεία της φανάρια κάθε 150 μέτρα και να σταματά όλη η ροή των αυτοκινήτων για έναν λουόμενο που θέλει να διασχίσει το δρόμο? Γιατί δεν υπάρχουν υπέργειες και υπόγειες πεζογέφυρες που θα ήταν πιο ασφαλείς για τους πεζούς και πιο πρακτικές για τους οδηγούς? Πραγματικά, μετά από μερικές ημέρες έχω την εντύπωση ότι θα πιάσω φιλίες με τους οδηγούς της διπλανής λωρίδας – περνάμε τόση ώρα δίπλα-δίπλα, ακούω τα προβλήματά τους, ακούω τα τηλεφωνήματά τους, τη μουσική τους κλπ.

Το να οδηγεί κανείς πάνω από μισή ώρα μέσα σε τραγική κίνηση (χωρίς να υπάρχει εναλλακτική) είναι άσχημη εμπειρία, τόσο ψυχολογικά όσο και οικονομικά. Πιστεύω πως θα έπρεπε να γίνει κάτι για να διευκολυνθεί η ροή των αυτοκινήτων προκειμένου να μειωθεί ο χρόνος μετακίνησης,  η ρύπανση και τα ατυχήματα με πεζούς και αυτοκίνητα.

Και το λέει αυτό κάποιος που για πάνω από 10 χρόνια μετακινείται σχεδόν αποκλειστικά με ΜΜΜ, διασχίζοντας πολλές φορές μεγάλο μέρος της Αττικής. Μερικές φορές όμως η χρήση των ΜΜΜ δεν είναι επιλογή (όταν π.χ. ο συνολικός χρόνος μετακίνησης με ΜΜΜ πλησιάζει τις 2 ώρες – και άλλες τόσες στην επιστροφή). Αν δεν βελτιωθεί η κατάσταση με τα (αραιά) δρομολόγια των ΜΜΜ, η χρήση αυτοκινήτου γίνεται ανάγκη, παρά το αυξημένο κόστος της…

The progress of a bad day (without a mobile phone)

Yesterday, just before reaching the suburban railway station, starting my daily commute to work, I realized that I forgot my mobile phone at home. I had two choices: either to go back home and spend precious time or to move on without it. I chose the latter. Let’s see how a day without a mobile phone would evolve.

The scenery at the station was lovely: cold weather, windy and drizzling while the mountains far away were already covered in thick clouds. I usually take a couple of shots per day there, and this would be a really nice opportunity. However, I couldn’t do so without my mobile phone’s camera…

I found my usual seat inside the train and as soon as I got seated, I reached for my mobile phone to check out the RSS feeds I downloaded earlier in the morning using my home’s Wi-Fi (I do not have a mobile data plan). This is the best way to start your day, reading news about technology, work and leisure. However, I soon realized that I do not have my mobile phone with me – at least I had a book in my backpack, so I started reading. I also tried to remember of any meetings that I had for today as I usually use my online calendar, always synced with my mobile phone. I could not recall any meetings, and if there were any, I would have trouble keeping myself busing during them without my mobile phone.

I reached my destination, somewhere in the north part of Attica. It was already snowing there; a sight not common for Attica. Cars started getting this bright white color of snow, the pavements received a thin layer of tiny snowflakes. Ideal subject for taking photos but still I did not have my mobile phone.

I reached the office and settled down; I am always the first to get there and this was the case today. As soon as I entered the kitchen to brew my typical morning espresso, I realized that there was no light there. I opened up all window shades and tried to switch on the espresso machine but there was no power. I took a peek at the fridge – no power there as well. I am not the most skilled electrician but still I reached the fuse box and tried switching on some fuses that were off. No reaction – half of the office remained without electricity. The landlord dropped by and let me know that indeed the whole building was left without electricity (in fact, half of it), and that he had already called the electricity company about that. He suggested that I did the same, in order to highlight the issue of not having power in a company (like ours). I tried to do so, but both phones are cordless and they were out of order due to lack of electricity. I tried moving on of them to another power outlet but the phone line cable was too short to reach. Then I though “Ok, I can call them using my mobile phone”, only to realize that I did not have my mobile phone with me…

I gave up and powered up my laptop; I had electricity in my office. Out of habit, I tried downloading my emails but the wired connection did not provide internet access. I said “Ok, let’s try the wireless one” but it was out of order, too. Both ADSL modem/routers were left without electricity. I tried to send an SMS through the web, asking colleagues to hurry to the office and help sort things out but of course without routers there is no internet…

I took a look through the office’s window and saw the snowflakes slowly falling on the ground, the trees of the nearby park and on the rooftops of the parked cards. What a lovely subject for a photo – it only made me wish I hadn’t left my mobile phone at home.

Then I thought that this is indeed a bad day so the least I could do would be to blog about it – I knew that I couldn’t reach my WordPress-powered blog without electricity/internet connection, so my second thought was to use Simplenote for that; alas, it also required internet connection! I gave up. Entirely. I fired up MS Word and started typing this post. After almost finalizing it, I recalled that I had the Evernote desktop version installed and I could have used it for drafting my blog post! If there was any single way for me to have made a tiny cup of coffee without electricity, things might have been better…damn bad day!

Electricity was restored a couple of hours later. In the meantime, a colleague of mine (and a good friend) announced that she’s quitting for another position (probably better). I tried to reach for my phone to get a selfie with her as a piece of memory (this is how I like to call them), but of course the phone was not there.

Throughout the day we got a really nice snowfall and I kept asking my colleagues to take some photos of it – I am not sure if I will ever receive these photos but I am sure that I would have made them in a different way. Later I wanted to see how my latest Instagram photo was doing but it was not possible (only through the lousy Instagram web interface).

During a meeting I found myself playing with anything that was around on the table – only to realize that I actually needed to get my hands on my phone!

While commuting back home, I really missed checking out the new RSS feeds through my phone and editing some photos on the fly; something I usually do after a hard day at the office.

The day ended. I reached home and found my mobile phone. WiFi was turned off and I had no calls nor messages. I made a couple of urgent calls, checked out Instagram, browsed my RSS feeds and then everything went back to normal.

My brand new laptop backpack

After heavy use during the last years, including rain, snow and even sand from trips to the beach, my laptop backpack started showing its age. Some wholes here and there, disintegration of its internal cover which led to water coming in and numerous bits of this annoying black plastic in each one of the items I took out of my bag; it was obvious that it needed replacement as soon as possible and probably before my next business trip. What I needed was at least space for a 15,6′ laptop (I usually carry around my 11,6′ netbook), at least two main compartments (one for the laptop and one for my documents/folders/printouts, snacks etc.) and a smaller one for all small items, like keys, external hard disk, , cables, wallet, ID etc. Mesh pockets would be appreciated, in order to hold my reusable water bottle and umbrella.

During one of my last flights, I saw the Deuter Giga available through the Lufthansa Worldshop for 60 euros (other online prices were much higher). It looked pretty convenient, spacious and full of pockets for all the small stuff I am usually carrying around (especially during business trips). More or less it was what I was looking for. Unfortunately it was not available when I managed to visit the Lufthansa Worldshop in Frankfurt, so I had to look for an alternative…. and it didn’t took me really long!

Right in front of me I saw a really similar laptop backpack but in different color and with different branding; it was the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Collection Backpack. It was large (fitting a 17′ laptop), light and looked durable. All pockets and compartments I needed were available plus some more inner pockets. The price was right (59 euros) so I decided to take it back home with me.

Lufthansa_laptop_backpack1 Lufthansa_laptop_backpack2

Next step is the migration of all the stuff currently available in my previous laptop backpack to the new one, just to see how things will be organized in this new bag. Have I mentioned that I love this process? 🙂

Commuting FTW

Απίθανο σκηνικό: Αφήνουμε τον μεγάλο στον παιδικό σταθμό στις 07.30, μόλις ανοίγει δηλαδή. Λίγο αργότερα βγάζω το Dahon μου από το χώρο αποσκευών του αυτοκινήτου, φοράω το κράνος μου και φεύγω σφαίρα για τον προαστιακό. Στις 07.45 είμαι στα εκδοτήρια και διπλώνω το ποδήλατο, οπότε στις 07.49 είμαι ήδη μέσα στον προαστιακό. Ταυτόχρονα η γυναίκα μου πηγαίνει με το αυτοκίνητο στη δουλειά της, για να μπορέσει να πάρει και τον μεγάλο από τον παιδικό σταθμό το μεσημέρι.

Η ίδια ιστορία Χ3. Μέσα σε 4 ημέρες!

Ελαφρώς διαφορετικά: Επιστρέφω από τη δουλειά το απόγευμα. Βγαίνω από τον προαστιακό, ξεδιπλώνω το ποδήλατο και γυρίζω προς το κέντρο της πόλης που ζω για να βρω το αυτοκίνητο εκεί που το έχει αφήσει η γυναίκα μου το μεσημέρι. Διπλώνω το ποδήλατο, το βάζω στο χώρο αποσκευών και πηγαίνω να μαζέψω τον μικρό! Όλα αυτά μέσα σε15-20 λεπτά!

Ουράνιο τόξο

Σουρρεάλ σκηνή: Στο μετρό προς το αεροδρόμιο, εγώ και η Θεοφανία Παπαθωμά καθόμαστε σχεδόν δίπλα-δίπλα. Η Θεοφανία casual και ελαφρώς ατημέλητη, αλλά λαμπερή όπως πάντα. Εγώ γυρνάω από τη δουλειά και ακούω το Creeping Death των Metallica από το mp3 player μου. Όλη τη μέρα έβρεχε δυνατά και εκείνη τη στιγμή είχε σταματήσει σχεδόν, οπότε μετά την Παιανία εμφανίζεται ένα απίθανο ουράνιο τόξο… σχεδόν ταυτόχρονα βγάζουμε τα κινητά μας για να βγάλουμε φωτογραφία αυτό το σπάνιο θέαμα, εγώ καθισμένος δίπλα στο παράθυρο, η Θεοφανία σηκώνεται μέχρι την πόρτα για να έχει καλύτερη θέα. Χαμογελάσαμε και οι δύο, μια νότα αισιοδοξίας. Εγώ κατέβηκα λίγο αργότερα, αυτή ίσως συνέχισε προς το αεροδρόμιο, δεν κοίταξα πίσω μου.

Απίθανο? Κι όμως συνέβη την προηγούμενη Πέμπτη.

Halbike 07-09-2011: (re)-join the team!

Stavros and me joined the Halbike team after a long time for an urban bicycle ride. There were more bikers than I expected (at least more than expected and seen at the last Halbike ride). It was a long and tiring ride (mostly due to constant stops, too many traffic lights in the city and narrow roads for that many bicycles!) to Pefki, through Marousi, Lykovrysi and other nearby suburbs. Photos from this ride can be found here. It was the first time after a long time that my saddle seemed to hard!

Here are two Dahon folding bikes (my Boardwalk D7 and my pal’s Vitesse D7HG), while waiting for the last suburban train back home. We were both tired and sleepy!

It was really nice to see some friends from the past, like Cemis, Sotiris and George as well as this massive participation at the Halbike. However I felt too old to follow such routes, stopping all the time at traffic lights and narrow roads. Maybe I was spoiled by my daily routes to office and back, where I get to stop nowhere but my final destination!

Προ-αστεια-κος 17-08-2011

Τελικά δεν είμαι ο μόνος που διαμαρτύρεται για τα χάλια του προαστιακού… μόλις βρήκα ένα σχετικό blog post που αναφέρεται πάνω-κάτω στα ίδια προβλήματα που έχω αναφέρει κι εγώ στα προηγούμενα μηνύματά μου. Μάλιστα, καταλήγει με μία λίστα με σχετικά blog posts, ανάμεσα στα οποία βρίσκεται και ένα από τα δικά μου!

Ο κόσμος είναι μικρός και η αγανάκτηση είναι κοινή!  😦

Current gadgets/daily companions [13/08/2011]

15-16" Notebook Backpack BG-4500p (600B-15 Notebook Backpack Urban)

Trust backpackEverything fits in this backpack from Trust: My netbook/laptop + power cable, notepad, A4 pages with info, food container (taken daily to office) & snacks, mp3 player, cables &  chargers, mobile phone, pens/markers/keys/business cards, everything well-organized in the inner slots/pockets etc. It even fits my small bag which contains my wallet, ID/Driving license etc, ready to be used individually when the whole backpack is not needed. It’s really comfortable even when cycling!

It has been widely used for my daily trips to office, in business meetings (well, it’s not really formal but it’s really convenient!), even during my summer holidays for carrying beach towels, shorts etc. One of my best buys!

Sweex MP3 player – MP303 Gold 2GB

It’s not anything fancy but it’s durable, with good sound quality and really Sweex mp3-303cheap. I went out to buy a pair of headphones and I ended up with this mp3 player at the same price (including a great set of white headphones, long lost now…). Ok, it misses some features (e.g. no shuffle mode!) and has some bugs (e.g. starting the playlist from the beginning after each charging…) but I have learned to live with those. The battery life is pretty cool, considering its minimal size and it is really portable. As for the capacity, I have never managed to put more that 1GB of mp3s in there!

It has been used intensively during trips and summer vacations and it is still going!


Sweex mp3-303-specs

HTC Touch HD (Blackstone)

HTC_Touch_HDBought second hand (well, third hand to be more precise) last August, after my HTC Touch Cruise was stolen. I have wanted this mobile since I first saw it and I managed to get my hands on it. Great, large screen, sturdy construction, now powered by a custom WM6.5.3 ROM (kwbr 5.7), it has proven to me much more than a phone: Used many times for GPS navigation, watching movies with subtitles, taking photos and videos, reading ebooks, working on excel lists (ok, basic stuff), taking notes and mostly web surfing (we are talking about whole weeks of internet browsing!). I consider it to be a small netbook. A problem with the touch screen appeared out of nowhere last year but it was serviced by Ace Hellas (the official HTC distributor in Greece) as it was still under warranty. Now it doesn’t even have a scratch and looks brand-new.

With a desktop battery charger and a second battery (both holding charge for about a day of working), it is always docked on my office ready to be synced (emails, weather forecast, tweets, photos etc.). Even though I have bought a ZTE Blade in the meantime as a back-up phone, I cannot take the decision to sell one of these two… especially the Blackstone!

Acer Aspire One 751h

AAO751hMy previous laptop (HP Pavillion tx-1110us) was rather heavy to carry around daily, despite its small dimensions (been proven really sturdy though!). I had to go for a lighter computer and I went for a netbook with the largest screen available back then (11,6 inches). It came with Windows XP home and a version of Ubuntu Linux, both of them replaced by Windows 7 Pro and Jolicloud after the first weeks. I have to admit that sometimes it is so laggy that brings me a headache; however I shouldn’t expect much from a weak machine with an Atom 1,3GHz CPU and 1GB RAM (in addition I suspect that the hard disk is also a source of lag). Most of the times it is working fine for light tasks (web browsing, emails, word processing, watching small clips – not HD, listening to music etc.). When a number of applications are open, or when working with large Word and PDF files, the netbook starts slowing down and warning you…

I had some issues with freezing the machine in random cases, but it seems that it is now solved after some updates. This little machine has travelled all over Europe and has been used during many project meetings, summer vacations even as a replacement for the office laptop. It is a great tool, as long as you know what to expect from it…

Dahon Boardwalk D7

Dahon_boardwalkd7I decided to start cycling after 15 years and I went for a folding bike, which I could also transfer in the Metro, for my daily commuting to office. Boardwalk was not the cheapest model around, but I think it had the best value for money when it was purchased. Initially used for commuting to the office, it was soon used for even longer rides (Freeday, Halbike etc.) around Attica. I have made hundreds of kilometers with this bike, and I didn’t have any problems with that, apart from some minor ones (e.g. replacing some spikes and a crank arm). I found the folding style to be convenient when going for shopping (as I usually fold it and take it with me inside the stores) and for office (as it can fit next to my desk). Minimum, cheap service, really fun to ride in the country (just outside the town I live in).

Some of the additional stuff I bought for my Dahon is the Arclite Rack, front/back lights (a number of them, mostly from eBay), a Bell City helmet and service sprays and stuff.

Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG20

I bought this camcorder after a survey I made on similar products. I think I SANYO_CG20_black_back_Mood_LRhave made the best choice: compact & lightweight (really portable), high quality of image and video and recording in HD. It has already been used for shooting hours of video (especially during the CerOrganic training school in Chania this May) with really good performance. The battery lasts for about 45 minutes, so I had to buy an additional one from, which lasts at least as much as the original one. The 4GB SDHC card I use lasts for more or less the same time, so it is a nice combination! The image of photos (10MP) is not great, but when we are talking about video, I am really pleased. It also features a lot of settings which I have never used.