Tom Bihn Ristretta: The Perfect Bag for Your Mac

A few months back, I wrote about my travel machine, the Macbook Air 11″. The bag I used to carry it around back then was a freebie that I got at QCon a few years back. Needless to say, it was cheaply made and it started to disintegrate. Quickly.


I started looking for a new bag after seeing a nasty tear on the side the bag (I threw it out before taking a picture. Sorry.) During my search, I stumbled upon the Tom Bihn Ristretta for the Macbook Air 11″. After comparing it to other alternatives, I decided to buy it.

And boy am I glad I did![[MORE]]

The Ristretta is light, compact, has plenty of room for someone on the go, elegant, sturdy, and best of all, it’s “Made in USA!” If you love your MBA as much as I do, you’ll treat it to something awesome like Tom Bihn’s slick bag. image image

I currently have the following items in my bag:

  1. MBA 11″
  2. MBA charger with long extension
  3. Kindle 3
  4. Magic Mouse
  5. iPhone charger
  6. iPhone
  7. Three pens
  8. Headphones
  9. Eye mask (when traveling)
  10. Ear plugs (when traveling)
  11. A New Yorker magazine
  12. Business Cards
  13. Keys
  14. Passport bag (when traveling)

This is the perfect computer travel bag I’ve had to date. I have a feeling you’ll love it too.

Macbook Air 11″: The Perfect Travel Machine



Here’s the thing. I own a 2.5GHz / 8GB RAM / Quad-Core i7 / 512GB SSD Macbook Pro 15″ that I use as my main computer to do all the heavy lifting I need (i.e. image processing in Aperture, code compilation & building in shell, manage my 94GB iTunes library, …etc.) It is reliable and powerful and I love it. It’s also a pain in the butt to shlep around when I’m on the go. It’s heavy enough and big enough to be absolutely immobile, at least for me. Here’s what the word mobile means to me:

Mobile: (adj.) Able to move or be moved easily and freely without any additional physical, mental or emotional hindrance to the person initiating the move (i.e. me.)

What I really need is a completely mobile machine. A travel machine. Something to use when I’m on the road speaking or attending a conference or chilling on a beach in Mexico. This travel machine has to be super light, super small and powerful enough to get things done. It also had to fit into my travel messenger bag (right.) This machine has got to be more powerful and more versatile than the iPad, which I also own but rarely use, and much lighter and far less bulkier than my Macbook Pro, which I’m on all the time when I’m at home.

Why Macbook Air?

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “come on, can’t you just use the iPad?!” or “man up, dude, and just shlep your Macbook Pro around and stop complaining.” Let me address these two passing thoughts quickly before we move on with the rest of the article.[[MORE]]

Let’s talk about the iPad. As much as I’ve liked it at first, I’ve increasingly become weary of its lack of a physical keyboard and command-line access. I tried the wireless keyboard for a while, but it kept dropping off to the point where it was never reliable and simply useless. When I’m on the road, I oftentimes need to get access to work’s VPN or to update a piece of code on my Github account, amongst other things. The iPad is just not made to do these tasks effectively. You really need a computer to do that, which brings us to the Macbook Pro and why it too is not a viable solution.

Mobility (check definition above) is paramount when traveling. When I travel, I travel light. I almost never check in luggage unless I’m going skiing or camping. I have a carry-on and a computer bag. In the computer bag, I normally carry my passport bag (when traveling internationally,) my Kindle for reading, a couple of magazines, iPhone charger, a couple of pens, headphones and a point & shoot camera. That’s it. Trying to fit my Macbook Pro into a medium-sized bag proved impossible. I would have lived with shlepping around the extra weight, but I definitely didn’t want to carry around a computer bag big enough for it. So I definitely needed something different.

After months of thorough due diligence, I decided to go with the 1.6GHz / 4GB RAM / Core i5 / 128GB SSD Macbook Air 11″. This spec had just the right dimensions, weight, and power to be the perfect travel machine for me. Quite frankly, it’s powerful enough to be the main machine for most people (more on that in the parting thoughtssection below.) During my research, I had three main factors in mind against which I measured my options. Those factors were:

1. Portability

To me, portability means two things: light, small and mobile. That basically excludes all the machines in the Macbook Pro line because light and mobile they’re not. That leaves me with either the 13″ or the 11″ Macbook Air. Although both are lighter and smaller than the Pro machines, the 11″ machine definitely feelsmuch lighter than the 13″ model and fits perfectly in my messenger bag, while the 13″ machine does not. So in the portability department, the Macbook Air 11″ has no parallel.

2. Performance

Although I won’t be doing hardcore image processing with this new machine, I still need it to be powerful enough to handle Keynote presentations and the occasional image processing and code compilation tasks I’ll invariably end up doing on the go. So in that respect, the higher end 13″ and 11″ machines are good enough for what I needed. The mid-2011 update beefed up the processing power of the entire Macbook Air line that it rendered it comparable in performance to the mid-2010 Macbook Pros. That was a huge leap forward in performance for the Macbook Air and it made me realize that regardless of which Macbook Air I pick, I’m going to get a powerful machine.

3. Screen Size

The Macbook Air 13″ is the clear winner in this category. But you could get an extra inch on your Macbook Air 11″ screen real-estate by hiding the dock. This makes the screen feel bigger on the 11″. I also learned to appreciate the power of the two-finger tap zoom, which comes very handy on the 11″ screen. As a matter of fact, it was so handy it rendered the screen size category irrelevant in my decision.

Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

In the end, portability was the deciding factor for me. I decided to go with the higher-end spec of the Macbook Air 11″, and I’m glad to say it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time as far as electronics are concerned. As far as productivity on the go is concerned, the Macbook Air 11″ blows any tablet, including the iPad, out of the park. If you’re in the market for a new computer and if nothing you do requires serious processing power (i.e. image processing in Photoshop, video editing in Final Cut Pro, …etc,) then I highly recommend getting the Macbook Air 11″ (or 13″ if screen size is very important to you.) If you plan to make this machine your main computer, I highly recommend getting the Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display to hook it up to. I have the older 24″ display and I love it. If you can afford to wait, then I’d recommend waiting for the rumored merger between the Pro and Air lines which promises to pack the Macbook Pro power into the Macbook Air body. You’ll get the best of both worlds, that’s of course if you’re patient enough to wait. Patience does pay off in this case 😉 In the image below, I put my Macbook Air on top of my Macbook Pro to give you perspective on the huge size difference between the two machines.


Kindle 3 by Amazon

Kindle 3 by Amazon

The iPad Made a Kindle Believer Out of Me
My Amazon Review


I resisted buying a Kindle for the longest time, and that’s saying something coming from me being an avid reader and a gadget feigned all in the same measure. My argument was that nothing would ever replace the physical book (I still do believe in that argument, somewhat,) and that I’d only try an eBook reader that simulates the book look’N’feel to a T. So I passed on all the eBook readers that came out after until the iPad came out.

I was excited to try out the iBook on the iPad. I knew the backlit screen was going to be an issue for long reading sessions, but again I wasn’t planning spending any extended periods of time reading on my iPad or giving up the physical book for any eBook reader anytime soon. In retrospect, I think what I was excited about was the colored book cover, the in-app store access and the cool page turn effect, all of which are superficial and novel. I downloaded a couple of books onto the iBook but never really got to reading them in their entirety and soon thereafter I forgot about the app (or the books) even existed.

It wasn’t until the Chairman of my company asked me to read a few business books that I revisited the iPad book solutions. By that time, Amazon had released the Kindle app and platform, which entailed that any book I purchased through that platform would be available on any device (including the Kindle device itself) that Amazon supported. Right off the bat, any book I’d buy would be available on my iPad, iPhone, and Mac. It was a no-brainer, and I downloaded the books onto the Kindle app and speed-read them over the weekend. 

Meanwhile, I was still buying hardcover books. I had no problem speed-reading through a business book to get the gist of the argument, but a novel is something I like to savor, and I just couldn’t savor a novel reading it on my backlit iPad screen. I kept buying business books through the Kindle app and fictions books in hardcover.

Everything changed a week ago when I was reading The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey on the Kindle app on my iPad that I realized that my eyes started to hurt. I downloaded the eBook version of this book because I didn’t want to handle the beautiful leather-bound edition I have sitting on my bookshelf. I looked at the clock and evidently I’ve been reading the book on that backlit screen for over 4 hours straight!

The eyestrain was so bad, I quit the Kindle app and launched the Amazon app and ordered the Kindle 3 right there and then. It wasn’t a very hard decision because the price was right and all the books I have previously purchased through the Kindle app on my iPad would still be available to me. It was a no-brainer, frankly.

My Kindle arrived the next day and I picked up reading Frey’s book where I left off. That afternoon, I was done reading it and already onto my next one. I immediately felt comfortable with the device. The text, contrast and the size of it were just perfect. I was reading on the beach over the weekend and I didn’t have to deal with glare. I loved it.

Although I will continue buying hardcover books, I will now only buy them of books I read and like on my Kindle first. I think I’ll end up spending less money that way. I will also keep my iPad for everything else I do online (e.g. Twitter, email, Angry Birds, Words with Friends, …etc)

Book lovers wanting to take the leap but uncertain, I can tell you this: after a couple of hours, you won’t even know you’re reading an ebook. This eInk technology is amazing! The Kindle, to me, has one purpose and one purpose only: reading books. It’s a perfect instrument that facilitates that function of which many of us are very fond. Don’t expect it to be a “tablet” because it’s not. If you want a tablet, get the iPad, which I also love.

I’m so happy I finally made the leap and got my Kindle. The skeptic in me is now a believer and I have my iPad to thank for that.