Saturday, May 31, 2014

Best Clear Lake restaurants: Two additions to the list

Up until now I haven't had a "Restaurants" blog post label because the pickins have been so slim in the Clear Lake area of greater Houston that it hardly seemed worth it.  Oh, sure, if you want the usual grease and 1,800-calorie gob-smothered entrees, there are plenty of run-of-the-mill chains from which to choose...
My father's favorite term for cheap, low-quality restaurants is "slop chute".  I've never heard a single other human being use that phrase to describe an eatery, but I have to admit, the experience is similar to its original definition: stuff that is only faintly reminiscent of food gets dumped in front of you and you're supposed to actually consume it.  My father worked at a naval base many years ago and probably picked up the term there.

Screengrabbed from Google.  
... but our suburbs are legendary for their poor dining choices, even as greater Houston itself is nationally renowned for both the quality and diversity of its food offerings.

To make matters even worse, in the past couple of years Clear Lake lost several of its most authentic eateries, including Korean BBQ on El Dorado Blvd., Hans Mongolian Wok in the old Fiesta center (I still get regular hits on that URL as people continue to pine for it), Portofino in Clear Lake Shores (killed by Hurricane Ike), and Dimassis at Bay Area and IH-45 (that one being done in by the worst possible location, location, location).

With the loss of those four, I was down to just two restaurants that I really enjoyed in this area of almost a quarter million people:  Tokyo Bowl on Space Center Blvd. and Chuyos in League City.
But fortunately, Houston restaurant critic Alison Cook continues to do her job exceptionally well (so well in fact that she has been nominated again for several national awards), and recently revealed two more local venues that are worth stopping for.
The first is Bada Bing which is located in (of all places) the HEB Bay Colony shopping center complex at IH-45 and FM646.  When they describe themselves as "Houston's best Italian restaurant", they aren't even remotely kidding.  You can read Alison's positively ecstatic review here.

Pictured above are a couple of generously-proportioned 12" pizzas my husband and I ordered there last weekend (note that there was almost an hour wait even at off-peak times - it's a popular place).  It was without question some of the best pizza I've eaten in my life.  REAL pizza - note the huge chunks of artichoke and fresh red pepper.  Not just gobs of the usual grease and low-quality ingredients that are found at most pizzerias.
The second local venue to surface in the news recently is Pho Binh trailer, which is more Southbelt than Clear Lake, but we'll take what we can get - it's close enough.  Pho Binh is number 14 (!!!) on Alison's 2013 list of Top 100 Houston restaurants.  Here is the slideshow version of the list, and here's the write-up (may be paywalled).  
It's all pho, all the time - there's nothing else on their menu.  
I am a pho fan, but until my inaugural trip to Pho Binh trailer yesterday, I hadn't eaten it in many years, for one simple reason:  Most of the restaurants that serve it load it down with MSG, and I am one of those individuals who experiences adverse reactions to MSG, especially headache.

List screengrabbed from this Mayo Clinic site.  
I am pleased to announce that I experienced no symptoms after consuming this large bowl of Pho Binh's offering.  If they are putting MSG in there, it can't be very much, because I didn't feel it.  
A few pointers if you decide to visit Pho Binh:

  • From Clear Lake, it's most easily accessed by going north on IH-45, west on Beltway, first exit Beamer, head north and see it on your left just past the school.  Note that there is a satellite parking area just south of it (mind the potholes).  
  • Get there early, at off-peak hours.  It's a tiny set of trailers cobbled together, perhaps the most ramshackle building in greater Houston.  With it being one of Houston's top-rated restaurants, competition for seats is fierce.
  • If you do get a seat, be prepared to share your table with other folks, who will probably be friendly Vietnamese-American youths.
  • If you've never eaten pho, prepare yourself for a slurpy experience.  I suggest you start by watching everyone else in the restaurant (which will be full of people) and decide which individual style best suits you.  It would be to your significant advantage to know how to use chopsticks (I don't know if they have forks).  Even if you are a chopsticks virtuoso, there's still no delicate way to eat this stuff.  You alternatively shovel and stuff noodles and spoonfuls of the soup into your mouth.  It's part of the experience.  

Happy noshing, and hopefully there will be more noteworthy local restaurants to come.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Name that popular Centerpointe shrub

Answer:  Vitex.
Quite a stunner, isn't it??  Every year at this time, folks ask me "What IS that?!"  Why it took Vitex so long to become popular in our area, I don't know, because it's a natural choice.  
It's a great plant for the common areas - very hardy and drought-tolerant. Probably not so great for small back yards, though, as it spreads quite wide.  It also tends to droop low over the sidewalks, forcing us dog-walkers to duck, but it's so pretty we can forgive that much.   

Monday, May 26, 2014

Separated at birth?

I have a confession to make and it's one that might have some folks slapping their knees in hilarity:  I have genuine difficulty forming a visual distinction between David Dewhurst and Jeff Skilling.
Other than being two fairly standard-looking white guys of about the same age and build when most of their respective photos were taken, they really don't resemble each other that closely in the literal physical sense.  I don't know enough about either to speculate as to whether they might be similar in some aspects of their personalities, but one thing is clear to me - there's something concordant about the way they both emote that interferes with my recognition skills.   
It has to do with the body language.  Normally when I'm scanning news thumbnails, I identify popular individuals in the media the same way that every other human being does - by simple associative recognition based on what I've seen before.  It's an automatic, effortless, nonverbal process, except when the thumbnail contains either Dewhurst or Skilling, in which case I often have to stop and consciously ask myself, "Waitaminute - which one of them is that, now??"
I'm not saying this because I have a political ax to grind.  I have very little interest in state politics (I personally believe it's more important to focus one's political attention and effort locally), and if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to choose between Dewhurst and his main rival Dan Patrick, I'd say go ahead and pull the trigger, because I can't detect a clear advantage to either.  
This concordance that I'm perceiving is perplexing to me particularly in view of the wildly different circumstances in which most of their respective media photos were taken.  Skilling is almost always sporting some version of that bored, pained, arrogant, hard-done-by body language projection associated with his criminal trial.  In significant contrast, Dewhurst is, well, the current Lieutenant Governor of Texas.  On the surface of it, those two realities hopefully don't have that much in common, existentially speaking.   
I realize that my brain doesn't work exactly the same way as everyone else's...  
...which is why I'll leave it for you to decide:  Was I perhaps dropped on my head as a baby resulting in subtle but specific damage to the perceptual areas of my brain, or am I actually seeing something here??

Photo credits for the above:  Pretty much every major news media outlet in America.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why do fire ants stings occur in pairs?

Answer:  I don't know.  I can't find an answer on the internet.
A pretty pair (not) which closely resembles my foot right now, as I just received my first fire ant sting pair of the season:  Many of the single-ant sting photos on the internet do indeed show two closely-spaced wounds like this, but there is no suggestion as to why there are two rather than, say, one or three in close proximity.

Screengrabbed from this Mississippi State University site
Given that the characteristic two wounds are separated by a distance roughly equal to the length of the ant's body, I used to assume that one was the bite from the front end of the ant and one was the sting from the back end of the ant.  But apparently the bite is of no medical consequence and is only used to anchor the ant in place so that it can leverage a more effective sting (according to this site, anyway).  So that's not the explanation.

I guess I'll have to do my usual thing and use this as a place-holder post in case the answer becomes apparent later or someone emails me with it.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with an example of the extraordinary work of Anthill Art, which makes art pieces by using molten aluminum to cast fire ant mounds.
THIS is the way I'd really like to see all red imported fire ant colonies end up.  Especially a certain mound in my own back yard.  

Image courtesy of Anthill Art.  
That's a piece I could display in my home with an abundance of pride.  But as you can imagine, this artist is overrun with business such that he/she/they currently have nothing available for sale.

If you've got two minutes to spare, check out this new video below.  Other entities, including Texas A&M Agrilife, have published illustrations on how to make a fire ant mound cast, but I haven't seen anyone else accomplish it with this kind of skill.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Critter alert

A large opossum has moved into the east side of Centerpointe Section 9 (Arlington and Harvard cul-de-sacs area).  It started tripping various components of my security system a couple of nights ago.
Cameras tell no lies:  the guilty party next to some 3 cubic foot mulch bags. 
I will attempt to live trap her and relocate her unharmed to a more suitable area (it certainly wouldn't be my first time, although I haven't previously caught a critter this mature here).  Meanwhile, I suggest the following:

  • Do not leave your garage doors up for any amount of time unless you are physically present.  An opossum will seize any opportunity to move into your house and (trust me) you don't want that.  Once they gain entry, they are surprisingly loathe to leave.  
  • Never, ever, ever leave dog food unattended outdoors.  Feed your dogs and then remove any excess food immediately.  This 'possum may be finding a good food source in our immediate vicinity because something is inspiring her to hang around.  
  • Similarly, never, ever, ever leave cat food unattended.  Some Centerpointe residents leave their garage doors cracked open at night so that their outdoor cats can find refuge.  You're doing your cats a favor this way, but you're also optimizing lifestyle conditions for opossums, which typically dominate cats (opossums are not aggressive, but cats are generally frightened of them and will stay away if an opossum comes to claim a particular cracked-open garage).  
  • If you have backyard gardens containing vegetables or fruits, be on the look-out for this one.  Vegetables are not very sought after by opossums (why bother to eat nutritionally-incomplete squash or onions when you could instead eat pet food with its well-balanced macronutrient profile of protein, fats, and carbs?!) and I haven't noticed any damage to my stock, but a bigger animal is going to have an appetite to match, so there's no telling what might occur.
'Twas with a great gut-wrenching anguish that I feared for the safety of my first ever Japanese eggplant this morning after seeing on security footage how this opossum was foraging in our yard overnight.  It would be tragic, indeed, to lose such a fine specimen so close to harvest.  Fortunately for me, it was not touched.  
The rest of my vegetables were also unscathed, including these two nearly-done peppers which are earmarked for a batch of jambalaya.  I had no room in my back yard for this plant so I installed it in the raised bed next to my garage.  As such, it has no protection from any source of damage.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Best camera and lenses for the semi-serious

Answer:  In my opinion, it's Nikon's prevailing entry-level D-series DSLRs (currently the D3300) with both an 18 - 55 mm Nikkor lens and a 55 - 200 mm Nikkor lens (B&H currently has a good deal on the 18 - 55 mm consumer bundle).  Have one camera body dedicated to each lens if you can afford to do that (it keeps you from missing important moments because you are fumbling with lens change-outs, and it also keeps dust and moisture out of the inside of the camera body because you never have to remove a lens).
Wikipedia hosts this spectacular summary of what's on the market and what's been on the market, Nikon-wise.  I'd be lost without it.  
I get this question a lot, both on and off blog - what camera are you using?!  I see a lot of people over-buying their camera equipment because they don't comprehend what they really need (it doesn't help that popular sites such as CNET sometimes mis-identify mid-range as entry-level).  I fall into that consumer category where my intention is to do better than what a cell phone can provide, and I want to capture special moments, but I don't want to dedicate my life to the pursuit of the perfect focus.  I'm not an aspiring professional - I just want to grab great photos with a minimum of fuss, without overstepping the point of diminishing returns.  And I'm very hard on my cameras, subjecting them to a great deal of outdoor punishment, which routinely leads to shortened lifespans.  If I were to buy up, photography would become financially unsustainable for me.

And I don't see a need to buy up.  The market has come a long way in just a few years, as technology continues to evolve at break-neck speed.  I was one of the Nikon D50 early adopters in 2005, and at that time, it was considered a mid-range camera.  Today's D3300 handily outstrips the capability of the original D50, but but the D3300 is instead considered entry-level.  You could buy a mid-range package, but would you notice a significant difference in the results for your extra $500 to $1,000 investment?  To me, the sweet spot of investment remains at the entry level simply because of the remarkable recent achievements in technology.

Most of the pics on this blog were taken with the 18 - 55 mm lens, which neatly brackets the range of normal consumer experience from de facto macro to wide angle.  Here is a series of recent photos illustrating the general capabilities of the 55 - 200 mm lens.  Note that these have been cropped and downsampled to a 1024 pixel size, so the originals are much higher resolution.
Bug-eyed on the Boardwalk Bullet: If you stand on Kipp Avenue a short distance south of the Starbucks, that's probably your best vantage point for shots like this.  I took this on Sunday afternoon as I was trying to catch my family in action, not knowing when their turn would come.   
The roller coaster moves so fast that there's no time to confirm which car your family members or friends might be in - it's better just to shoot first and ask questions later.  None of my family in this one either.  
Still no loved ones appearing, but I was really impressed that this young lady's ornate hijab remained in place for the duration of her ride.  
Kemah also boasts that new upside-down ride, reportedly the only one in Texas and the second tallest in the world.  One of the enchanting things about using a basic telephoto is that picture-viewing becomes a bit like Christmas - you won't really know what you've got until afterward when you load up the pics on your computer.  My child asked, "Mommy?  Why is that guy giving the finger?"  I replied, "I don't know sweetie - apparently he was engaged in a conversation with someone on the ground."
Of course, you can also use the 55 - 200 mm telephoto lens as a de facto macro lens in certain contexts, as this anole picture shows.  Some of the effects of doing so can get a bit otherworldly, as the light collation is tighter (more polarized) here than it would have been if I'd used a regular macro.  
They are such fearsome beasts, aren't they??  I never get sick of photographing anoles.  
A dove that came a-drinking about a half an hour ago (I often keep the telephoto on the desk beside me so that I can get shots like this without getting out of my office chair!!).

Note that I took this through my office window which is perpetually covered in dog snot because my dog tries to sniff the birds through the window pane.  Any distortion you see here was not due to the telephoto lens - it's due to the cheap plate glass window I was shooting through. And the snot coating it.   
If you are torn between cameras and lenses, look at sample pics such as those above and ask yourself:  What is it that I would have wanted to achieve in those same situations that was not achieved by those pics??  If you find yourself citing a specific answer, then maybe you've got a justification to buy up.

I have always told myself that I'll go ahead and purchase the next upper level of camera at the very point where I feel I have exhausted the possibilities of the entry level models that I already own.  I myself have yet to reach that threshold.  Good luck with your own camera shopping.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Front yard onion harvest

A year ago, I distinguished myself not-in-the-slightest with this post describing the trend toward suburban front yard vegetable gardens.  The movement was well underway by that point, so nothing I was doing was innovative.
The front yard fieldwork begins to look a bit more impressive at the point where food actually starts coming out of it, however.  We are now harvesting the onions that the neighborhood kids and I planted back in November.  
Stereotypical suburbs?  A four-door sedan, a dog, a manicured lawn, a front walkway, and 52 Spanish and Texas 1015 onions completing the Rockwellian scene.  I planted close to 100 but we've been hauling them out of the ground routinely over the past couple of months, using both the immature bulbs and green tops in a variety of dishes, plus we've been giving some of them to neighbors.  So I'm down to probably 65 or 70 for the main bulb harvest.  
Of course, the onions don't get left lying on that manicured lawn - that was just the temporary staging area.
They get set out to dry so that the bulbs will keep.  
I have not yet mastered the art of onion drying.
We do the first phase with the green parts still attached, but some folks cut them off at the outset.  You're really supposed to do a combo sun-drying and longer-term curing phase.  The first year I did this, the onions cured fabulously and kept for about five months.  Last year, they apparently didn't get dry enough and began to rot within a month after harvest.   
We have, however, mastered the art of onion eating.  The onion and squash harvests are happening at the same time, and I've probably harvested 15 pounds of the yellow stuff already this month.  A lot of it is being made into frozen dishes such as this Mexican squash and pork stew, but this simple side dish of fresh sauteed onions and squash also becomes a staple  for us at this time of year.  Onions and garlic in olive oil with a bit of fresh oregano, salt, black pepper, and I like a bit of chili powder also.  
This could be yours with a little front yard frontiersmanship.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The devil did not make them do it

Every time I see the likes of this, I suspect belligerence or carelessness on the part of League City's trash contractor Republic Waste, or mischief at the hands of neighborhood children:
Oh, come on - for the umpteenth time, empty trash cans in the very middle of the street?!
But of course, that's why I have a series of security cameras, so that I can get to the bottom of stuff like this.  Rewinding time, I have found no instance where any human hand was to blame for this repeated minor annoyance.  It was just the wind.
During the trash can investigation process, I did discover that someone in the neighborhood has a new kitty.  All black and given the size, I suspect female.  Let's hope she does her part to keep the local rodent population in check.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie mule

I got a lesson in cultural evolution last night when I took my teenage daughter and her friend to a multiplex theater to see an R-rated movie. The rating was for language only, which does not trouble me with respect to my own child, and the other girl's parent had given his permission for her to see it.  But because of "heightened security" at the theater, last night for the first time I had to actually buy a ticket and do exactly what this famous sign says:
That is, I had to physically accompany them into the theater. And of course it's every teenager's dream to have a grey-haired old woman along for the ride on a Friday night.  
See, in the Olden Days, which was all of two weeks ago, what teens would do is figure out which movies were down which multiplex hallway, and they'd buy a ticket to a PG movie down that same hallway.  And then they'd simply slip into the theater showing the R-rated movie they wanted to see in the first place.
It's a small, harmless act of rebellion.  If the worst thing your teen does is sneak into an R-rated movie, count yourself among the truly blessed.  
But now there are gestapo movie police who patrol the multiplex hallways to thwart exactly this type of subversive activity.  Which meant that I had to hustle my girls into a movie that I had no intention of participating in, which makes me a modern-day analog to a drug mule or something.  The poster says that I have to "accompany" them - it doesn't say that I have to actually sit through an entire frat house flick myself, right??  It's not my deal!!! I'm just muling these kids over the movieland border!!

If nothing else, this kind of enforcement represents a shrewd money-making effort on the part of the cinema, because it means that they're making an extra ten bucks without having a geriatric like myself proceed to actually occupy the seat I paid for.
Because, of course, they don't make enough money already.  Sigh.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Best cross-body bag

Answer:  In my opinion, the best one on the American market to date is the Navigator Bagg by baggallini, which is available at The Container Store.
It may even be exclusive to The Container Store because I can't find it listed for sale anywhere else.

Image courtesy of The Container Store.
I will explain in detail why this is my choice, showing all the problems I had with numerous other brands.
They are not unknown in the American consumer market, but they are not as popular here as they are in Europe, which boasts a larger collection of pedestrian societies.  This makes finding a good one surprisingly difficult.

Quote screengrabbed from ebags.   
Unfortunately, my photo-documentation series is incomplete, because I've already given away more failed cross-body bags than I can count.  But here are a few shots of those that still linger unused and undonated in my closets.  If you are a cross-body bag aficionado, maybe these pics will convince you that you need to choose wisely if you want to avoid wasting your hard-earned money.
While not explicitly promoted as a cross-body bag, the "Healthy Back Bag" was one of the first on the market to claim an ergonomic-type advantage.  
I had two of them over the years and I had the same complaints with each.  The sateen fabric on this black model showed dirt really badly.  And the fabric was not robust enough for the punishment that I typically dole out to handbags.  It tended to look worn very quickly.  
Furthermore, they weren't well-designed from a compartmentalization standpoint.  Basically all my junk would end up in a heap at the bottom of the bag.  I didn't find the interior compartments to be very useful.  
Durability and design are equally non-negotiable where cross-body bags are concerned.  These types of handbags are not carried by the type of average women who may drive back and forth among their suburban homes, the grocery store, and an office job.  If you are searching for a cross-body bag, you are probably professionally-oriented, but you're no fashionista.  You're a woman who moves around a lot and who needs to keep her hands free and her purse contents within quick, efficient reach.  No rummaging around like a guinea pig in a fresh pile of wood shavings while the rest of the world waits for you to get your stuff together.

Having had poor luck with fabric bags, I moved on to leather, which proved to have its own faults.
I thought I was onto something good when I found this Fossil bag.  The leather quality was better than average and the bag was reasonably well-designed.  
A properly designed cross-body bag will have an integrated wallet compartment on the exterior of the bag - that's what makes them maximally efficient.  No digging through the purse for a wallet, prying open the wallet, rifling through the contents... you should just pop open a convenient flap and immediately access your cash and plastic.  This particular Fossil did not have a large enough number of integrated credit card slots, but I could live with that much (you can see one line of them down the center of this flap pocket).  
However, I could not live with this atrocity.  While the bag itself was a good quality leather, the straps that hold the handle onto the bag were a crummy grade of leather or vinyl wrapped around something that looked like cardboard to bulk it up.  Almost immediately, the edges frayed, revealing the cardboard-like material inside, a flaw that was basically impossible to fix without incurring more labor cost than the bag was worth.  Whenever I'd look at this, I'd recall that famous soul-crushing line from "Silence of the Lambs":  "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes?"  Well, with this mess, I felt like I had good shoes and a cheap bag.  *Fail*.  
Mmmmkay, so what did I do next??  Bought yet another leather bag.  I realize I was being a sucker for punishment but I have a very specific lifestyle and I simply need a good cross-body bag, so I had to keep trying different models.  

Unfortunately the leather on this one was not as good as the Fossil had been, and it showed wear very quickly.  I don't know what brand it is, because I bought it at DSW in the Baybrook shopping center of Clear Lake Texas, and it seemed to be no-name.  

Furthermore, it had another design flaw that quickly made it look ridiculous.  There was a decorative buckle on the front, but the buckle prong pointed up instead of down (thanks, China!).  What that meant was that, when I'd lift the bag upward from the floor or wherever, the prong tended to hook on whatever the bag brushed up against (e.g., the side of the car seat, the cushion of the couch, the person standing next to me, etc.)  So I then had to take wire cutters and snip the buckle prong off.  But between that move and the leather that wore thin quickly, I was right back into cheap-looking territory.  *Fail*.  
The other limitation that you should realize with respect to leather is the weight.  If you're a cross-body woman, you're probably on the go, zooming around on foot, physically active, and perhaps in addition to your bag you are carrying other equipment and/or small children.  Realize that you're going to be hauling around 1.5 to 2 pounds of unnecessary CG-destroying weight if you choose a leather bag.  I ended up concluding that the high-end look afforded by leather simply wasn't worth it.
My very next bag boondoggle was a nylon Travelon model.  They are advertised as offering security features because they have clips that allow you to secure the zipper pockets.  There's also a wire running through the main strap so it can't be easily cut by a purse-snatcher.   
This one offered the advantage of a light-colored interior which allowed me to see the contents more easily.  And mercifully, there were more credit card slots than the Fossil had.  
However, there were two fatal flaws.  Number one, the zippers kept letting go on me - they were (in my opinion) too flimsy to stand up to the abuse I dish out.  Number two, the thing didn't really have a good convenient pocket for a smart phone, which is the Kiss of Death where purses are concerned.  Both side pockets were too small, but I tended to cram my phone in there anyway, which made the zipper splitting problem even worse.  
Incidentally, even with all these photos, all these different brands, and all these complaints, there were still more purses that I bought and later gave away because they just didn't work.  For instance, REI has produced some wonderful cross-body bags over the years - assuming the wearer never exceeds 21 years of age, that is.  REI's handbag products tend to be durable and excellently designed, but they lack sophistication.  I'm taking my bag to corporate meeting rooms in sky scrapers on Smith Street - I'm not taking them camping.

Sigh.  Enter, finally, the baggallini.
I have yet to find a bad flaw - and obviously I'm a flaw-finder.  The nylon fabric is very durable and repels dirt. I don't just visit Smith Street skyscrapers - I have dragged this bag through some of Houston's grittiest industrial plants, perhaps as many as thirty times so far.  You'd never know it by looking at this pic.  
The front pocket is big enough even for oversized smart phones.  It closes with a magnet for one-handed opening.  
The front flap with the cell phone in it lifts up to reveal the zippered wallet feature.  There's a photo ID slot on the outside, which is really convenient for me because I often need to surrender my TDL as I enter high-security facilities.  
Here's the feature that separates the men from the boys, metaphorically speaking.  When you open the wallet, the credit card slots are on the side farthest away from you, such that you're automatically looking straight at them rather than having to lift the bag to horizontal in trying to peer at the inside wall of this pocket.  THAT took real headwork on the part of the designer.  Somebody took the time to think this thing through.   
Another stroke of genius - like I said, women who carry cross-body bags tend to be on the move and they don't fool around with life.  If they use cosmetics at all, it's often limited to the basics.  The main compartment of this bag contains elasticized holders for just the two barest essentials - mascara and lipstick.

Some of REI's early cross-body bags had lipstick loops as well.  Just lipstick - nothing else.  Because outdoorsy women will often use lipstick as their token effort at social conformism, and to heck with everything else.  
Close-up of the corner, where the wear tends to show the worst (it's about six months old in this photo, six months of heavy use).  So far, so good.  
So after untold hundreds of dollars spent over the years on other products, the baggallini Navigator Bagg is my favorite because it is:

  1. Sophisticated enough for the skyscrapers
  2. Durable enough for the industrial dungeons
  3. Light enough so that it doesn't throw me off balance on long treks, and 
  4. Efficient enough so that it doesn't leave me cursing and fumbling at the check-out counter.  

Should I later discover hidden flaws, I will update this post, but for now, this is my hard-won winner.