Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why is it hard to trust our instincts?

This is something I've been wanting to write about for a long time.  It is something that I found in the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The movie itself was an interesting, gripping watch, not to mention very violent as well, but this is about one specific scene in the movie.

This is towards the end of the movie in the scene in the basement with Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) suspended in chains and Martin Vanger (played by Stellan Skarsgard) about to kill him.  Martin says to him (via moviequotesandmore.com):
Let me ask you something. Why don't people trust their instincts? They sense something is wrong, someone is walking too close behind them. You knew something was wrong, but you came back into the house. Did I force you? Did I drag you in? No. All I had to do was offer you a drink. It's hard to believe that fear of a offending me is stronger than the fear of pain, but you know what? It is. And they always come willingly, and they sit there, they know its all over, just like you do.
These lines seemed very powerful and stuck with me.  Why?  I realize I often ignore my instincts and act in ways that might make me appear more socially acceptable.  In fact, I'm so used to burying my natural instincts that it is hard for me to even pinpoint what it is trying to tell me.  This is the kind of thing that leads to analysis-paralysis during decision making because the external parameters are often inadequate when capturing the effect of unknowns.

This quote from the movie did two things.  It articulated something which I felt has been true for me and also made me aware that it is probably not that uncommon.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A thin wallet

A few years ago, I looked for ways to thin my bulging bifold wallet. I had several bank cards (credit & ATM cards), airline cards, insurance cards, membership cards, etc. filling up all of the pockets in the wallet.  I used to carry the wallet in my back pocket.  I used to buy these wallets at Creative Leather Concepts, and had ordered so many from them over the years that they automatically discounted my purchases.

For some reason I decided one day that I wanted to simplify things.

Reducing the number of cards

So the first step in getting to a thinner wallet was to reduce the number of cards.  I separated my cards into piles -- cards that I'm likely to need daily or in an emergency, and cards that can be kept away.  In the first pile were my license, bank cards, insurance cards, and membership cards.  I decided all of the loyalty cards could stay out of the wallet and instead put them in a separate card case.  Next I reduced the number of bank cards by canceling all but 2 ATM and 2 credit cards.

The switch to the front pocket

That still left me with about 10-12 cards and so I continued using the same wallet and continued to carry it in my back pocket, until one day when I decided to try moving it to my front pocket.  This was the first time in around 35 years of carrying wallets that I decided to change the habit.  It immediately felt more comfortable and secure.  That's when I decided to try and find a slimmer wallet better to suited to carrying in the front pocket.

Incidentally, I later found that sitting on a fat wallet can cause sciatica.  I'm glad I decided to switch before I had any problems.

The alternatives

Searching around on the 'net I found a bunch of alternatives:
  • The Slimmy: This is one of the first ones that I came across.  But it would not have fit all the cards I needed and it required a complete change to the way I carried currency.  There were complaints from reviewers about stuff falling out of the wallet and all over the place.
  • Tyvek:  The next one was the Tyvek wallet.  These are more of a traditional design and super slim, but it just felt weird to be carrying around something that's a piece of paper, plus it looked like stuff would slide out too easily (especially the cards).  NICO is a slightly more sophisticated take on the Tyvek wallet.
  • All-ETT: I don't see the original All-ETT wallet listed here, but you can get an idea of what it looked like by looking at the sample in the link and thinking of a design that had 4 card slots, 2 on each side, organized one on top of the other.  This made the wallet too big to carry in a front pocket comfortably, but it seemed like an interesting design for a back pocket wallet.
  • Big Skinny:  Back then, they had only one product, which they no longer make!  The closest one they have now is the sport wallet.  That one was slightly larger (the size of the multi-pocket bifold) but it had one less compartment than even the sport wallet.  And the material was a microfiber similar to those in Prada bags.  They seemed to be able to accommodate 10-15 cards quite easily and had solved the problem of stuff falling out of the wallet by using a rubberized coating.  It was also non-leather, super thin, and at $20 was quite reasonably priced.
  • Money clips: This just didn't seem like a good idea with no real protection for the currency and the chance for cards to fall all over the place.
My choice

I ended up deciding on the Big Skinny because it seemed like the most practical of the lot and I wouldn't have to make any further adjustments to what I was carrying in my wallet.  I went through several of their original design.  And, since it has been discontinued, I have switched to the multi-pocket bifold.  I don't like the change in material, which now feels more like regular cloth, but I guess I can live with it.

One of the problems I've had with the Big Skinny is when traveling to Europe the currency is often too large and sticks out at the edges.  I usually end up having to fold it in interesting ways to get it to fit, and since these are very short trips, I don't bother to try to address it in a better way.  They do make a world wallet, but that takes away from the compactness.  Being an engineer, I've been trained to optimize for the common case.

Other interesting wallets

Here are some other wallets that I've come across later that I think look interesting, but I don't see a reason to change from the Big Skinny.
  • Unifold wallet: Made from a single piece of leather.
  • Bellroy: Website claims they're made from leather from end-of-life cows (i.e. cows that weren't slaughtered).  I saw these at Nordstrom and wasn't impressed with the thinness or the quality.
  • Waterfield: Hard to get stuff into and out of the card pockets.
  • RAGGEDedge: The material is too stiff and not conducive to holding many cards.
  • Mitchell: A slim money clip design.
  • minimum squared: Made from a single piece of very thin goat leather.
  • DUN wallet: Claims to be the world's thinnest leather billfold.  Holds up to 8 cards and 10 bills.