the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Daypack Shootout: North Face Borealis vs. Osprey Quasar

Once upon a time in 2016, I was getting ready for my first trip to the United Kingdom, and I found myself in need of a proper daypack. It would need to not be awful to carry through airports, manage a laptop, a small camera, and limited supplies like a water bottle and small snacks, stow a light jacket, hold some modest souvenirs that the kiddo would inevitably insist on, and stand up to the springtime rains. Bonus points would be awarded for not looking horrible or presenting me as a theft target. I spent a week or so agonizing over online research and eventually narrowed the field to two final and very similar contenders: Borealis by The North Face and Quasar by Osprey. I ordered both from Amazon and spent an evening doing an in-depth comparison, the results of which, dear reader, are at long last yours to behold.

Buckle up--there's going to be a lot of pictures.


So that's the Quasar on the left and the Borealis on the right. Both bags are 28 liters and are remarkably similar to one another.

Both bags feature a bungee cord for external storage of things you might want easy access to. The Quasar's matches the rest of the bag, for a more subtle look, while the Borealis offers a splash of color (and in fact comes in a nearly ridiculous number of available colors).

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Both bags were easily capable of corralling a light jacket that I jammed in not very neatly for a quick test, giving me confidence that they could support my layering needs. I really didn't want to wear a wet rain jacket indoors, so this external, easily accessible storage was a huge win for me.

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Both bags terminate this cord with a little plastic hook that you can attach to this webbing to keep things nice and neat. The Quasar's hook is a little larger and seemed both more robust and easier to work with. I also preferred the mechanism on the Quasar that's used to adjust the tightness of the web.

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Both bags fit a modest water bottle with ease in the stretchy side pockets. But we have a major point of differentiation here: the Borealis has only one compression strap per side, while the Quasar has two. On the Borealis, the compression strap and its hardware interfere with the top of my bottle, while on the Quasar the bottom strap goes over the outside of the pocket (meaning you can over-tighten it and make the pocket difficult), and the top compression strap is far out of the way. Points here (for me at least) go again to the Quasar.

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The side pockets are also a great place for an umbrella--another late March London necessity. This also gives us another look at the placement of those compression straps.

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The Borealis has a little molle strap sewn into three segments that you can use to hook stuff onto the bag. The Quasar has two mount points featuring a sort of rubber tube. I kind of liked the molle material better, and it was easier to clip things on there, but I can also see the value in how Osprey has arranged things on the Quasar.

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Both bags have an adjustable waist strap that you can use to shift some of the bag's weight onto your core and hips. (Also great for feeling self-conscious about the proportions of your belly.) These straps need to be fairly snug for you to really enjoy any of their benefits; to make this easier, there are nice little loops on either end that. While these are functionally equivalent, I thought the loops on the Borealis were finished a little better, and the waist strap on the Borealis was a little wider/thicker, and so slightly more comfortable when worn and also slightly nicer to adjust.

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The Borealis and the Quasar both feature sternum straps that can be raised and lowered as well as tightened. They're basically identical, and both have whistles built into the clips. You may not think that's all that novel, but I hadn't shopped for backpacks since the 90s, so I commend bag makers for this very cool safety addition. Good job, y'all!

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There are some additional mount points on the shoulder straps of each bag. I found the little molle straps on the Quasar easier to work with.

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Both bags feature a small pocket near the top that's suitable for sunglasses and small electronics. The pocket on the Borealis is lined with super-duper soft material to prevent scratching up your specs, while the material on the Quasar is adequate but not quite so luxurious a home for its contents. These pockets are essentially identical in terms of size, so if pampering your stuff is a goal, the Borealis gets the points here, but I'd be willing to bet that this pocket on the Quasar does a little better in wet conditions.

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Each bag has two major compartments, accessible from a panel-style zipper that goes up and around like an upside-down U. The outermost of these compartments features each maker's take on some organization features, while the innermost is home to the bulk of the bag's storage.

Looking at the Borealis first, we have a nice variety of pockets in various pratical sizes, some padded and some mesh, with one zippered. The zippered pocket includes a little strap and clip to attach your keys; I appreciated being able to conceal keys in this pocket. The narrower of the two padded pockets is just right for a mobile phone, and the wider is a lovely home for a tablet (like my old, old iPad 2). There are also a couple more molle strap mount points to let you customize things a bit. Down at the bottom are spots for pens and pencils and mesh pockets just about right for a little pocket notebook.

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The Quasar, by contrast, is a little more barebones. Yes, there are some pen and pencil slots; yes, there are a couple of miscellaneous pockets; yes, there are a couple of stretchy mesh pockets; yes, there is a clip for your keys. But the clip doesn't hide away with the elgance of the Borealis, and nothing feels quite as well thought out as on the Borealis. I like that the color here makes it easier to find things, but the Borealis seems better organized in practically every other regard. That said, the Quasar does one thing here far, far better than the Borealis--access. Remember those compression straps? On the Borealis, the compression straps interfere with the zippers of both compartments. By contrast, the Quasar's straps only impede access to the main compartment, making access to this organized compartment far easier than on the Borealis.

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Finally, we come to the cavernous main compartments. Both bags have plenty of room here for you to load them up however you see fit. Here, though, the Borealis is the more spartan of the pair, with just a single, fairly plain laptop pocket with no additional padding. Even then, this slot was a disappointment, barely capable of holding my 13" Macbook Air clad in a neoprene sleeve. The Quasar shines here, including not only a padded laptop sleeve, but a second slim pocket for papers or a notebook, and a zippered mesh pocket that's great for power cords and video dongles. It was a breeze to insert or remove my Air, neoprene sleeve and all, and that mesh pocket is just the right size for my 7-inch Grid-It organizer. The Quasar wins here, and it wins by a lot.

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I don't have photos of the next bit, but I zipped both bags shut and sprayed them with water from a spray bottle, with particular emphasis on soaking the zippers themselves. Both bags admitted a little water, but the Quasar's zippers fared noticeably better than those on the Borealis. I was planning to get a rain cover regardless of which bag I selected (and I'm glad I did, because I needed it on a soaker of a night in London!) so this wasn't a big deal, but was definitely a point in the Quasar's favor.

At this point I was still vacillating between the two bags, mainly because of how both bags were great at one compartment but not at both. The deciding factor turned out to be something I can't capture in pictures: the carry. The feel of the bag, properly fitted and holding a typical load, on my body. The Borealis has much thicker padding for your back, but both that padding and the straps felt much stiffer than the Quasar. I'm sure that the Borealis would improve with time, or that I'd get used to it, but I was a little over a week out from flying to the UK, so that was time I didn't have. By contrast, the Quasar felt broken in from the moment I put it on. The straps were just right, and the padding didn't press into my back in weird ways like the Borealis did. So the Borealis went back to the warehouse and the Quasar went with me to England and Wales, where it performed marvelously.

I was so pleased with the Quasar that I've since picked up similar Osprey bags for my wife and daughter: the Questa for Liz, better fitted to feminine anatomy, and the Pogo for the kiddo, because the other child bags lacked the waist strap. The Pogo in particular has been nothing short of a miracle for the kid; the sternum and waist straps mean that she can carry her bag through the airport without complaint. As a parent, this is huge.

Ultimately, though, both of these bags are great choices, and I am not at all surprised by how many of each bag I've seen at tech conferences in the past year. It's a lot like the photographer's dilemma of choosing Canon or Nikon--it's hard to go wrong with either one, but you should try them out and decide for yourself.

Good luck, and happy daypacking!

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Welcoming the Webble

The Upgrade

After a couple years of having no footrest for my home desk, then trying a now-defunct subwoofer, and about two months of relative satisfaction with a small Amazon box, I finally decided to indulge my ergo urge and sprang for a Webble, an effortlessly-gliding, four-castered footrest that resembles a mesh-covered Pringle. It's taken me this long to write up a review because I've been too busy not being uncomfortable while working on other projects.

The short version? It took some getting used to, but now I'm sad that I don't have one at work.

Since the Webble is a bit thicker than the cardboard box it replaces, I had to raise my chair a bit in order to make my knees feel right. This has emphasized certain other ergonomic problems in my current chair (a POS from the Office Max up the road that's got to be close to 10 years old at this point), which means now my upper body wants to be spoiled too. It also doesn't feel cquite right when I'm wearing shoes, but I think that's because my proximity to the wall means that I can't quite put my feet where I'd like to with shoes on.

In sock feet or bare feet, though, it's just about perfect. I alternate between using the front edge, the top sides, the top ridge, and the open mesh area in fairly equal measure, shifting naturally whenever one of my legs wants to move. I also find myself partly rotating it quite a lot, and quite often I'll absentmindedly spin it around or pop it up like a skateboard. I find myself really missing it at work, where I use a static footrest that helps but isn't nearly as much fun as the Webble. Plus it looks a lot classier than a cardboard box.

If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, little comforts can go a long way toward improving how your body feels; you could certainly do worse than this delightful companion.

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He Who Rocks and Puts Away Lives to Rock Another Day

The kiddo has had a pretty strong musical interest for a while now, but in the last week or so she's gotten really excited by my Rock Band controllers, which have been hanging out in the corner of the family room, right where they're easy for her to get at if she wanted to. I'm content (thrilled, in fact!) to have her noodling around with my original Rock Band 1 controller (of the woefully busted whammy bar), but I'd like to keep my pair of RB2 controllers in good shape for as long as possible.

So, off we went to Guitar Center to pick up a couple of guitar hooks to hang the controllers on the wall, safely out of reach from curious little hands.

I'm not sure if I'm more embarrassed by buying guitar hooks for my fake guitars, or by the fact that we'd worked up an elaborate tale of how I'd recently inherited a (fictional) ukulele collection (to explain my concerns about whether the hook would be narrow enough to hold the guitar head). Sadly, no questions were asked about my purchase, so we never got to try out the story.

So, here you go--photographic evidence that I am, in fact, pretty much a total dork. Enjoy.

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Random Bafflements and Minor Disgruntlings

Sometimes, life utterly baffles me.

Sears somehow thinks that, while fully aware that I'm a 29-year-old white male, adverts for "Olga Panties" are something that they should include with my bill. Even the name scares me... I mean, seriously, even if I were the panty-buying type, "OLGA PANTIES" just screams of bad branding. But that's just the tip of the iceberg...

My brother-in-law Andy had a baby last Thursday (actually, his wife had the baby, har-de-har-har isn't that a clever and not-at-all overused joke). They'd managed to not know the gender up until delivery, so they hadn't invested yet in any gender-specific items yet. Thus it was that Liz and I went to Baby Gap this weekend with orders to procure things that loudly and proudly declared the complete and utter cuteness of their new little girl. We found some really cute stuff at surprisingly reasonable prices, and as luck would have it, I ended up with another of their "do our survey and get a discount later" coupons. So, since I like discounts, I filled out the survey tonight, and I have to say, there's some stuff on the survey that really makes no sense at all. Like... How am I, 29-year-old white male that I am, supposed to know if the infant clothes that I was shopping for fit me comfortably? Maybe I could put a "If You Think I'm Cute You Should See My Dad" T-shirt over my head, or hang the little bunny shoes on my ears, but besides being utterly freakish, neither of those options sounds like it would be comfortable. And the really off-the-wall questions like that are, naturally, the ones with no "N/A" option.

And in more surreal news, I've recently been getting a string of calls to my cell phone from a mysterious number that I don't recognize. Usually they're at strange times where I've either got my phone turned off, or it's away from me, or I'm in a part of my gargantuan corporate labyrinth that gets crap for cell coverage, and my policy is to not bother returning the call if I don't recognize it and they don't feel like leaving voice mail. Finally, yesterday evening, I managed to have my phone on me when the mystery caller rang. At first it seemed like a perfectly normal wrong number situation, except... My mystery caller wasn't trying to call anyone--she was trying to check her voice mail, and for whatever reason, Sprint was convinced that they should connect her to my cell number. So... How does a mobile phone company manage to mix up their internal voice mail with a phone on another company's network? It made for a couple of amusing, albeit brief calls (Mystery Caller and later Sprint tech support), but it fundamentally bothers me. Did the call take a wrong turn at the NSA or something?

I've got some other stuff I want to blog about, but the most profound bafflement of all seems to be figuring out when it's going to happen, as work remains insane. Argh!! I want my (sad imitation of a) life back at some point. Please?

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Boxed In

Originally uploaded by mikepirnat.

Two (maybe three?) weekends ago, we woke up to discover our mailbox was laying flat on the ground. We haven't figured out exactly why this happened, though we narrow our eyes suspiciously every time we see high school kids hanging around in front of our house for no apparent reason. We had some errands that had to be run that day, so we decided to sideline the mailbox issue until we got back; when we returned, the mailbox fairy had planted our mailbox back into the ground again, though not as deep--and thus not as stable--as before. We took that as a sign that we could delay dealing with it until it became a problem again.

Last weekend, the mailbox was down again, and this time (due to the stability issues) it had really landed hard, causing the box to take some serious damage. Definitely time for a replacement--only, where to find the time? It's hard to replace or even reset a mailbox when you aren't getting home until after dark. I got really down about the state of the house as the week wore on with no progress.

That changed, thankfully, this afternoon. After dragging myself around to multiple Home Depots with our roof contractors on the insulation front, I made a return trip to the store to acquire mailbox goodies. I am now pleased to report that I have a fully functional, almost respectable looking mailbox, ready to send and receive the morrow's post!

Yes, I caved in and got one of the plastic ones that I utterly abhor, but the installation was easy, and I have to say that there's something about spending $1300 on insulation first thing in the morning that makes it hard to justify blowing heaps of money on a fancy post and all the necessary supplies.

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For ages, I have pooh-poohed Joss Whedon's "Firefly", thinking it a silly trifle of network TV, the kind of thing that can't stand up to "real" sci-fi. "It's no 'B5'," said I, despite how my coworkers tried to change my mind. Then the trailer for the movie arrived, and I started to wonder what I'd been missing all this time. And then I bumped into the Serenity in LEGO, and I thought, Damn, that's pretty neat. There might be something to this... And then even my mom told me it was outstanding.

So, I figured I ought to watch at least a little of the show before the movie comes out, so that I'm not completely clueless among the throng of browncoats who will surely be in attendance. A coworker has been trying to remember for about three or four weeks to bring in her DVD's. Finally, the waiting got to be too much, so I broke down and bought the damn thing.

And, I have to say, I was pretty much dead wrong about this show. It rocks! Snappy dialogue, great FX, good stories, a fascinating blend of cultures, top-notch acting... In a way, it's a lot like Cowboy Bebop, only without the jazz music. And completely, utterly addicting--we've watched over half the series since about eight o'clock last night.

So -- "Firefly" fans -- I admit it! I was wrong! It's a freaking great show!

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Reunion Travelogue (Part Six)

Monday, 7/25:

Up early to go rafting on the Animas (full name: Rio de las Animas Perdidas; translation: River of Lost Souls). Great trip, lots of fun. Water was about 40-45 degrees F, so definitely an eye-opener. Mostly calm trip, but some great fun rapids around the foot of Smelter Mountain, with much whooping and hollering and soaking. Got cleaned up, went to Holly's shop (Sunnyside Farms Market, plug plug plug) with my folks to get lunch and buy goodies. Dad drove us up into the valley north of town to check out the aftermath of the horrible fire season of 2002. Back into town, we stopped at the high school to take some photos of the new expansions. Did a bit of shopping downtown, then came home to get changed and went out to a lovely dinner at Mahogany Grille. Packed up and turned in so that we could get a bright and early start on our drive to ABQ for the return flight.

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Reunion Travelogue (Part Two)

Thursday, 7/21:

Breakfast at the B&B; was vastly better than dinner, though perhaps perceived quality is related to the fact that the OJ pitcher turned out to be mimosas. :-) (w00t!) Wandered Taos on foot, did a little shopping, then drove up to Durango. Stopped along the way to marvel at and fear the Rio Grande Gorge. Dad was still in Denver on business, so we went out with Mom to Lady Falconburgh's, a biergarten type of establishment, then back home for a bottle of Gruet's NV sparkling brut rose. Much happiness.

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14 Days, 1 Hour, 55 Minutes, and Change

Popped out at lunch today to pick up the new NIN album, and the Return of the Sith soundtrack. NIN is pretty good. Haven't listened to Sith yet--considering trying to keep at least a tiny bit of "prequel purity" before The Big Day comes, even though I already read the silly kids' storybook version at K-Mart the other week. (Lucas should just cut out all the dialogue and make it a silent film, because what's in the storybook looks pretty freaking sweet.)

Also, finally got off my butt and ordered tickets for VNV Nation (June 7 at the Cleveland House of Blues, in case anyone feels like being social in a bouncy EBM-synth-industrial sort of way).

Also also, this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day!

Excitement abounds! Excelsior!

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PyCon (Day One)

It was a long but exciting day at PyCon, with many interesting presentations and discussions. Some of them were relevant to my professional life (thus justifying sending me in the first place), and some were extremely useful for personal projects (I think I finally found a satisfactory way to do neat things with my wife's Address data to make life easier at Christmas time).

At one point, I found myself seated directly behind Guido van Rossum, Python's creator and "Benevolant Dictator For Life," and I got a chance to see the master in action as he tinkered on slides for his keynote address tomorrow morning.

I got my second free T-shirt of the day upon the purchase of the newly-released (today, in fact) second edition of the Python Cookbook. Hooray for stuff!

I did have a small laugh to myself when, during the PyWebOff presentation, the speaker made a statement about it being unlikely that anyone would ever have more than 100 users trying to hit your website all at once. I'm sure that she was talking about small sites with limited scaling needs, but I'm also used to an environment where our load balancers are coping with thousands of connections per second, and where we have pushed close to 1.7 gigabits per second for hours at a time, so the idea of having 100 users on the site at a time seems to me like a vacation for the servers.

I spent an interesting hour in an ad-hoc discussion of various Python topics this evening; ostensibly on the subject of OO issues, but the discussion largely focused on some of the recent language controversies in Python, specifically interfaces and (optional) static typing.

After things wound down, Dave, [info]trygve, and I went out to El Chalan. We arrived at the decision by looking at a provided list of local restaurants and picking the one that we couldn't figure out just from the name. It turned out to be Peruvian, and pretty damn good at that. I skipped the ceviches for budgetary and waistline reasons, but had a nice little salad and the Lomo Saltado, a house specialty of beef strips sauteed with fried potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. The by-the-bottle wine list looked really fun, with lots of Tempranillo and related blends, but as I was the only one interested, I just defaulted to the Concha y Toro Cab, the only red offered by the glass. (Enjoyable wine, but pretty pedestrian.)


The only thing I really dislike about PyCon is that the auditoriums and conference rooms are hot. Hot like Disneyworld in July. Just plain disgusting. I think their A/C systems must be overcompensating for the mild and lightly rainy day that we had, but still... Even our hotel rooms are like saunas! Yikes!

I haven't been around this kind of sweaty geek aroma since Trilogy Tuesday.


On an interestingly subversive note, what at first blush appears to be a paid-only gate on all internet traffic here at the hotel is apparently only trapping web browsers, and then only web browsers that seem to be more "well known" than others. I was getting ready to pay up when GAIM magically reconnected me! I was able to rdate to sync my damn drifting clock, I can ssh into my home machine, and if I feel like using lynx, I've got all the web that's fit to read! w00t!

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