What’s In My Bag: Chris Gammell

What’s In My Bag: Chris Gammell

We’re kicking off this week with a series of posts from our authors about what we carry around with us as engineers. We’re sure you’ll find lots of similarities and would love feedback on what you see and possibly even what you think we’re missing! I’ll start us off:


Most of my work is done on a laptop these days. Therefore, I’m often found toting my entire laptop setup around with me. I wouldn’t think otherwise these days, but I know many EEs who prefer desktops because of the assumed high power processing (think MATLAB). Plus doing schematic entry and board layout often requires multiple screens. Still, I favor portability and being able to work from anywhere over a slightly faster load time of a web page or a calculation.


This is a pretty standard issue Lenovo notebook from my workplace. Sure, it’s boring from the outside. But it has an extended battery, it’s pretty rugged and it gets the job done. And I’m continually amazed at how much of an EE’s work is done on a computer these days. Looking up new parts, communicating with vendors and entering schematics; I’ve gone months in front of this computer, simply in order to get enough hardware designed to justify trips to the lab. 30 years ago, this was definitely not the case.


I’ve written before about how I capture my ideas. I often bounce between many different notebooks, but I enjoy large ones with blank pages. There seems to be boundless ways I can express myself and the covers still protect my ideas from the inevitable coffee spill on my desk. The text here was from a speech I gave at Maker Faire last May.


I recently found a treasure trove of old application handbooks at my workplace. Of particular interest were the Linear Technology ones from the late 80s and early 90s. One of my heroes, Jim Williams, wrote a large chunk of the application notes contained within. Though many (all?) of his application notes are available online, it’s still great to have physical copies of the notes, even just for transport and nostalgia. If you’re interested in JW’s works, I highly recommend, “Reading Jim Williams”, a blog that chronicle’s another analog enthusiast’s reading of these classic notes.


While I’m sure our mechanical friends here at EB will have tons of tools at the bottom of their bags, mine was much more limited. And even carrying these around is a stretch. I always worry I’ll forget them when I head to the airport some time and I’ll have to throw them away. Still, if I was forced to choose a multitool for an electronics bench, I’d choose my diagonal cutters. They cut wire, strip wire, cut plastic and a lot more. Really they’re great to have around when you’re not sure what to use for your destruction. Doubly so if you’re harvesting parts off a board.

Dev Boards:

A development board can really come in handy when you’re in a tight spot. You might need to right up a simple SPI controller to talk to a new chip you’re evaluating or in the more advanced cases, you might even want to set up a tiny linux server (as is possible on the BeagleBone and the Raspberry Pi). For me, it’s none of these things. I’m actually just carrying it around to play around with it when I have a few idle moments. Sure, it’s great as a utility tool…but it’s good as a learning device as well!

On The Go:

The thing that has change the most in my life in the past few years is the fact that I now carry a smartphone. I wouldn’t have thought I needed it (and some days I wonder if I really do). But with all my online activities, it’s almost a must these days. More recently, I’ve actually started even carrying a flexible keyboard and left a docking station at my desk, so I’m ready to go should anything pop up unexpectedly.

I tend to doubt that I’m a normal EE. I don’t carry a discrete calculator (the old RPNs seem to be fixtures among older engineers) nor do I have resistors floating around with my pocket lint. It’s just not as practical these days, at least for the type of work I do.

What do you think? Should there be other items an EE should carry? Or just every engineer should carry?


I spend most of my time in front of computer, but I rarely carry one, except when I travel or need a laptop for making a presentation. My backpack always has a clipboard with lined paper, pencils, eraser stick, pencil sharpener, and an RPN calculator.

The tool every engineer should carry is a Swiss Army knife (OK, some prefer a Leatherman tool). The knife blade can be used for almost everything that Chris claimed diagonal cutters were good for, and the other tools are good for opening wine and beer bottles, fastening and unfastening screws, opening tin cans, punching new holes in leather belts, removing splinters, and so forth.

Ever since I got an E-Reader (the new model from Sony), I’ve carried it with me everywhere. I’ve loaded it up with most of my textbooks, so I have a searchable database in case I need to look something up. I’ve also loaded it with all the datasheets for the electrical components that I work with, so I can quickly look up the pinouts/specs/curves for various chips without having to dig through papers or go online, and so I always have it by my side when I’m breadboarding. It’s also loaded with classic books from Project Gutenberg in case I’m sitting at the bus stop and feel like reading. (I recommend “the chemical history of a candle” by Michael Faraday). And since it’s a touchscreen model it works as an electronic sketchpad, in case I need to draw something quickly or crunch some formulas and run out of paper (a notebook works better for this).

Also, my keychain has a tiny two metre tape measure built-in, which comes in handy when you’d least expect.

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