On being oddly dressed (by )

Last Friday, I stood up in front of a hundred or so people and gave a five-minute talk on some software I've spent two years of my life writing. However, I wasn't particularly self-conscious about the fact that I was oddly dressed.

For me, clothes are about:

  1. Keeping me warm
  2. Carrying my stuff

It's not that their appearance doesn't matter to me - I don't want to be wearing shabby or tatty clothes. I don't want to wear garish bright colours. I like my clothes to more or less match, so I tend to choose solid dark colours when I buy myself clothes, as they're easy to look smart in.

But every now and then I get a comment from somebody that I must be a bit weird to go around wearing a podbelt and an assault vest... and when the weather's bad, I got outside in a full-length heavy cloak. Luckily, saying that sort of thing disqualifies people from me being too interested in their opinions, so it doesn't particularly bother me.

I like carrying lots of stuff with me. I'm equipped for every eventuality. When people get things in their eyes, I'm there with a mirror and tweezers. I have the obligatory geek multi-tool, of course. My first-aid kit has brought comfort to many a cut finger. My little lengths of string have jerry-rigged many a repair. I always have a torch, a compass, a pen, a notepad, a monocular, and a laser pointer to hand; so I can navigate, find things in the dark, read small text on a projector from the back of the room (and then point to the thing I'm asking about with the laser). If a button comes off of something, I sit down, take out my sewing kit, and fix it. In my laptop bag is a pouch full of cables and adapters, which has saved the day on many a late-night data-centre emergency. When it's raining so hard that people are cowering in shop doorways, my cloak keeps me dry; at the conference on Friday, when there were no seats left, it folded up tightly and became a low stool so I could sit comfortably. A week or so ago, when I was driving home from London very late one night and became too tired to continue, I pulled into a dark lay-by and slept underneath it, warm and comfortable even when the temperature plummeted before dawn.

I'm not just hoarding gadgets for the sake of it - I do assess the trade-offs of every extra bit of weight to carry around. Weight in the podbelt isn't an issue as it carries very nicely on my hips, I barely notice the weight of it, but space there is at a premium. Weight in the assault vest is more of an issue, since it pulls at my shoulders. I've tried having just a podbelt, but it's not good to wear while sitting down, so I tended to take it off and sling it over the back of the chair, which makes things harder to get at; and I've tried just having an assault vest, but weight was a problem. The current combination means I can keep lightweight things I often need while sitting down (mobile phone, pens, pads, business cards, laser pointer, etc) on me all the time, while weightier things I tend to need more on the move (keys, wallet, tools, first aid gear) in the podbelt. I have optional extra things I add for specific "missions" that I wouldn't want to carry all the time, too - I have a special tool jacket with loops for screwdrivers and the like which I wear if I'm doing DIY in awkward locations, an extra assault vest with more specialist stuff for when I'm busy being a Cub leader, a black lightweight mesh one with large pockets for hiking (the large pockets accept good quantities of food, GPSes, and the like), a water flask that goes on the podbelt, and a spare podbelt pouch that I'm going to assemble a survival kit in: emergency rations, a survival blanket, that sort of thing.

When I've explained this to people who question the amount of stuff I carry, they say "But what are the odds of all these things happening?". But they happen all the time! So I'm happy being prepared for anything... it makes life a lot less stressful. My clothes and their pockets become an extension of my body; we are, after all, all cyborgs.


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