Category Archives: reviews

Gear review: Lenovo ThinkPad X201i

For my recent trip to Europe I was able to take and road test a Lenovo ThinkPad ultra-portable laptop (model x201i). I’m going to be a bit sad to give it back.

That’s a pretty big call for someone like me who usually takes a MacBook Pro on trips and hasn’t used a Windows laptop for many years.

The Lenovo turned out to be a gem of a machine. It is fairly light in weight for a fully loaded laptop. It has built in wifi and DVD drive, several USB ports and all the functionality of a Windows desktop in a nice lightweight laptop. And it has the solid feel of a well-engineered machine, not just flimsy plastic like some of the other Windows laptops I’ve used.

I was traveling for nearly a month and needed to do a lot of work – writing documents, slide decks and working on spreadsheets – while away. This machine turned out to be very good for this. A proper keyboard with large keys for my fairly large hands was a real boon. There is even a little light up near the webcam that gives some illumination to the keyboard in low light, although it would have been even better if the keyboard was backlit.

The ThinkPad survived some pretty cold weather in France and Belgium and worked just fine at airport lounges in transit through London, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Usually I disable all of the manufacturer’s software as it tends to annoy me. But in this case the ThinkPad wireless connector was very useful as I was in low wifi areas.

The built in microphone and webcam are good quality and made Skype calls a breeze so it was easy to join in conference calls while traveling. The onboard DVD drive made watching shows on flights a good option where no in-flight entertainment was available. The multiple USB ports made the mini hub I was carrying redundant and I was able to plug in my phone and Flip Video Camera at the same time.

From this experience I think that the Lenovo ThinkPad x201i is an excellent Windows laptop for business travelers. It combines all the grunt of a a larger machine in a lightweight and fairly rugged device. It’s definitely on the shortlist for the next laptop we buy in this house.

Trotsky and her new dog food – Yoghurt Plus

My dog Trotsky* is a somewhat bolshie little beast and she does not like it when I travel away from home overnight (I’ll come back to this fact later).

Trotsky and her butterfly wingsRecently we (Trotsky and me that is) were asked to participate in a trial of a new dog food by the folks over at Yoghurt Plus. The deal was Trotsky would eat the food and I would report back on how it all went down.

I was intrigued by the notion of a probiotic dog food that had been developed by a former AFL player.  As mentioned in their press release:

Yoghurt Plus has been developed by John Gould, former Australian Rules Footballer, who played half back for two Carlton premiership sides in the 1960s. John himself owns 10 domestic dogs. Yoghurt Plus is supported by five years worth of scientific studies, conducted by Melbourne University, Victoria, Australia, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia and Auburn University, USA. All studies were independent and met the strict requirements of AAFCO. The findings were then substantiated by Professor Nick Costa – Head of the school for Environmental Science Murdoch University, Australia and Dr Robert Gillette- Director Veterinary Sports Medicine Program Auburn University, USA.

I don’t know much about Aussie Rules football, but this guy sounded like a real dog lover to me, and it’s not often Trotsky gets invited to review things, so we accepted.

She’s been eating this new food for three weeks now. We were a bit worried about how she would go with a new diet as Staffordshire Bull Terriers have notoriously delicate tummies (which has been bad for the carpet in the past). But she’s scarfing down the stuff quite happily (and sharing it with Roy our other dog). Both of the dogs are looking good on this new diet.

But there was one claim in the press release was proved absolutely true the other day. Namely: “Helps Reduce Stool Volume and Odour – Assists digestion, helps to decrease the potential pathogens in the GI Tract and helps decrease the compounds that can lead to unpleasant odours in stools.”

As mentioned earlier, Trotsky is unhappy when I travel and, as a protest, she has a bad habit of sneaking into the upstairs living room and making a ‘deposit’ there for us to find at a later stage.

In the past these ‘deposits’ have been very smelly, squishy and hard to pick up. But I am delighted to report that her last ‘deposit’ powered by annoyance at me for being away and Yoghurt Plus dogfood made for a non-smelly, less bulky and easy to pick up ‘deposit’.

Sure this dog food does nothing to address the weirdly passive aggressive relationship between me and Trostky. But it is living up to its promises and Trotsky and Roy have healthy shiny coats and gobble down their Yoghurt Plus with gusto.

The only other thing I would note is that the food has a very yoghurty kind of smell when you open the bag – some people might not like that. But the dogs don’t seem to mind at all.

* that’s Trotsky on the left in her butterfly wings, Roy is standing to the right

American Express discovers new depths to customer service

I’ve been an American Express customer for a long time.  But recently they made it apparent that they do not want my custom so I’m in the process of closing my accounts. Unless their customer service tactics are treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen something very strange is happening at that company IMHO.

It went thus …

I’ve had and used both a gold charge card and a gold credit card for many years – which I got especially because Amex is supposed to be a good card to have while traveling. Both cards are paid up and in good order, with automatic payments set up so I don’t forget to pay on time.

Last week while traveling interstate I went to pay for a taxi using the gold credit card and it was declined. I did not think much of it and just used my ANZ Visa card to pay instead. Then later I tried to use the Amex card and it declined again. Mildly cross I put the card away. It seemed weird because based on my credit limit with Amex I had over $10,000 left of my credit limit available at that point in time.

However, unbeknown to me Amex had decided reduce my credit limit by over 50% and I now had no credit limit left on that card. IT IS A VERY GOOD THING THAT I WAS NOT TRAPPED, A WOMAN ALONE IN A STRANGE CITY, WITH ONLY THAT PARTICULAR AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD ISN’T IT?

Thank heavens for my ANZ Visa card – again an account in good standing – and one that was not ripped from under me in a very hostile way.

I arrived home several days later to find a letter from Amex advising me of the change in the credit limit. Sadly that letter at my home which reduced the credit limit without notice served no good purpose for someone who was 2,000 kilometres away at the time.

The letter also advised that my card could no longer withdraw cash from ATMs; further it stated:

As your current balance is close to the revised limit stated above, please ensure you make a payment prior to using your card next….

Yours faithfully,
Adrian Janssen
Head of Credit Services
American Express Credit Card

Oh thanks Mr Adrian Janssen (who signed the letter) that really helped when your letter arrived while I was traveling. Perhaps a short notice period might have been a bit of good customer service to cover such a case?

Of course, upon arrival at home late Friday I tried to phone Amex to discuss this matter. To no avail as the credit department do not work outside of ‘business’ hours.

Up until now my relationship with Amex was settled. Even though their cards are not widely accepted in many places that I shop and merchants often add an extra several percent onto transactions to cover the higher Amex merchant acceptance fees, I still kept their cards. But no longer.

The matter is easily resolved. I simply took out my cheque book, wrote a cheque and walked to the post box and dropped my payment in the post.

I’ll be calling at a more convenient time for Amex – during the ‘business’ hours they work – to close both my accounts. My life is busy enough without rubbish like this. Voting with my feet will make me feel a whole lot better.

Here is a sample of the Twitter conversations regarding this matter.

Source:the nice folks over at Sency

Review: Flip Mino HD

Flip Mino HDOver the past few weeks I’ve been able to *try out one of the new Flip Mino HD™ digital camcorders. It is the most convenient (literally pocket sized) & high quality video camera I’ve seen. Easy is the key term that comes to mind with this gadget.

Connecting the Flip to a computer is easy with the built in USB – no more losing the cable when it’s time to upload.

On a Mac uploading is very simple, just plug into the USB port & the movies are imported into iMovie with ease. Even on a PC the Flip is easy to use. For PCs the Flip software requests an install first time and connects automatically thereafter. And uploading from either Mac or PC to YouTube is a snap.

Another nifty feature is the ability to save a snapshot from the video stream easily. The snapshots can also be uploaded easily to online sites like Facebook or Flickr. The Flip software also has the cheesy capability to send an e-card with your video embedded (some of you already received your Hannukah card).

It’s not the right gear for lovingly shooting nature and scenery & must admit that there were times when I longed for zoom. But for capturing moments with people – family & friends – it is ideal (check out the #GelatoTUB clips on YouTube). So easy to whip out the Flip and capture a moment & easily share it online with other folks.

Apologies for my novice video skills – but you can check out some of my videos on YouTube to get an idea of what the Flip is like. Iggy Pintado is also doing a series called #RealTweeple using his new Flip Mino™.

Pricing & technical specifications on each model:

Flip Mino HD™ RRP $299.95 AUD
Recording Time: 1 Hour
Memory: 4GB
Screen: 1.5” Transflective
Video Resolution: High Definition, 1280×720
Frame Rate: 30fps Progressive Scan
Video Format: H.264, MP4
Average Bitrate: 9.0Mbps
Battery:Internal Li-Ion Rechargeable
Battery Life: Up to 2 Hours
TV Output: SD Composite Video
Zoom: 2 x Digital

Flip Mino™ RRP $229.95 AUD
Records: 1 Hour
Memory: 2GB
Screen: 1.5” Transflective
Video Resolution: 640×480
Frame Rate: 30fps Progressive Scan
Video Format: MPEG-4 AVI
Average Bitrate: 4.0Mbps (auto-adaptive)
Battery: Internal Li-Ion Rechargeable
Battery Life: Up to 4 Hours of Recording Time
TV Output: SD Composite Video
Zoom: 2 x Digital (interpolated)

* Note – I have to give the Flip back soon as it was a loaner, but it is on my wishlist for real ;)