Lenovo X41 Tablet PC Review

I have to say that I’m impressed. The Lenovo Tablet PC, like any of IBM’s products is not the most inexpensive offering on the market. But, as I expected from my other IBM ThinkPad experiences, it is rock solid and works as advertised.

The package I purchased includes the biometric fingerprint scanner as well as the X4 Dock. The fingerprint scanner, frankly, has me giddy. I’m pretty security minded and was interested to see if this new technology would be an asset to somebody wanting to properly protect their machine or a kludgy add on that caused more problems than it solved.
I’m happy to report that it seems the former is the case with the biometric fingerprint scanner. I have separate and distinct passwords for power-on, my hard drive access and my account access on the machine. All of which are navigated by a single swipe of my finger on the scanner.
If you are interested in more than just the most basic security (Account login password) it takes a little knowledge or, in my case, research on Lenovo’s site to figure out what is needed and how to implement it. I have to say that all the information was there so I didn’t have to go scouring the ‘net to find what I needed.

Writing with the Digitizer pen couldn’t be easier, my handwriting has actually improved over the past few years as I’ve been making an effort to adhere to my philosophy that “if it’s worth writing down, it’s worth being able to read again” so I have had very few issues with my handwriting being recognized accurately. Even more astonishing to me is the fact that my cursive handwriting is also being recognized with no effort at all on my part. I am writing as quickly, if not faster, than I would write on a piece of paper and the well-thought-out software reliably figures out what I’m trying to put down.
I don’t know what the digitizer surface is made of, but the resistance to the stylus is surprisingly similar to writing on a sheet of paper. Not at all like some of the experiences I’ve had trying to put my signature down for a credit card purchase where it feels like you are using a ball-point pen on a mirror.
One hint – don’t get too obsessed with trying to watch the intermediate guesses at your final word that show up as you are writing, that will only slow you down and it will magically sort itself out by the end of the word in nearly all cases.
The only issue I have is that corrections can be a little slow. Say it inadvertently capitalizes (or doesn’t) a word because I was a little sloppy with my handwriting, going back and correcting words requires figuring out a very different way of thinking for me at least. Even after coming from many, many years of PDA use. Oh by the way, unlike PDAs you don’t need to re-learn how to write, it recognizes REAL letters.
An article I read on the ThinkPad handwriting recognition said that if you dedicate yourself to using only pen-based input for the first little while (I’d say about 2 or 3 weeks) you’ll become so proficient at it that the keyboard will become practically reserved for true marathon messages.

I would certainly not want to hand write a lengthy email using just the pen, my hand would probably seize up with a writer’s cramp, but for a single paragraph or entering a search term in Google it’s absolutely fine.
A hint, you’ll want to switch to the little digitizer keyboard to enter passwords.

I also have the larger 8 cell battery with my unit. I think it’s a stretch, though not a huge one, to claim 6.5 hours of use is possible with this battery. But I find, using the “ThinkPad Default” power setting that I can see 4+ hours from the unit easily. There are nearly a dozen included settings, everything from “Maximum Performance” through to “Timers Off (Presentation)” to “Maximum Battery Life”. I have played with most of them now and can see where the “Maximum Battery Life” may actually get you much closer to the claimed 6.5 hours of usability but, with the screen that dim, why bother? The battery longevity that I’m seeing is ample for my intended uses for this unit. If I can get through a feature length movie and still have enough power to surf the web and deal with my email for a couple of hours, I’ll be a happy camper indeed.

Probably the only downside to the unit is the lack of a built-in CD ROM drive. The package that I bought included such in the dock, and the lack of a CD drive in the actual unit itself no doubt is part of the reason it is so compact but this makes it very challenging to be useful for movies, which I think is a need any traveller has for their laptop – be it in the airport, on the plane or in the hotel room. I have plenty of shows and movies that I would like to watch during that down time.
Included with the unit is “Virtual Drive” software. It will let you copy an image of just about any number of CDs and DVDs and store them on your hard drive for access later. It is supposed to completely emulate the DVD/CD drive so you can access any of those images without the need to keep swapping in and out the physical disks. One catch though, it can’t deal with CSS encrypted disks which is how the vast majority of Movie DVDs are “protected”.
So the Luddite-inspired MPAA has managed another coup – they can keep me from the content that I have purchased yet again (My Roku Soundbridge can’t play any DRM protected content from iTunes either).

So, even though I consider myself an honest sort of fellow, it looks like I’m going to have to look to one of the peer-to-peer networks to try to acquire a copy of the movies that I already own so that I can use them in a manner that I wish to.

This is not the worst problem in the world, and is a small ‘nit in an otherwise wonderful notebook experience but it’s something you need to consider should you often require the ability to receive and access CDs on the spot. I can see this being an issue perhaps at conferences such as Lotusphere and the like where you might want to follow along with the presenter with your own copy of the slides for greater visibility or to annotate them as the presentation proceeds. If that’s that case, then this may be a consideration for you. If you can get back to your hotel room and rip the DVD/CD to your HD before attending the presentations then there may be no issue.

Again, I’m very pleased with the X41 so far.

Best Rollup/Wrap

Ever since immigrating to the United States from Canada, I’ve been looking for a restaurant that can replace the venerable Swiss Chalet. Their menu has grown incredibly over the past 10 or so years to obscure their real purpose for existing (the Chicken on a Kaiser with fries). But Swiss Chalet is still a no nonsense, value-for-the-money place to go and get a reliable meal that pretty much everybody will enjoy.

I’ve not been able to find a place that offers the basic, satisfying food that is as ubiquitous as Swiss Chalet, but due largely to their Chicken Fajita Roll-up, Applebee’s restaurant is a rising star on my short list of reliable, satisfying places to eat.

Worst French Fries

Rather than damning an entire Country, which would be consistent with my accolades for Moroccan French fries, I just wanted to highlight a glaring shortcoming of an otherwise fine restaurant.

Now that Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC) has changed their fries they no longer qualify as the worst you can get. Those of us old enough to remember can recall that the cardboard box that Kentucky Fried Chicken fries used to come in actually rivalled the fries in flavor.

No, the fries I’m talking about today are julienne, but dry and tasteless. They exactly remove any pleasure from any plate upon which they reside no matter how good the entree. I’m talking, of course, of the French fries offered by Ted’s Montana Grill.

I’ve been to three of their locations now and I have to hand it to them, their fries are consistent. I asked the wait staff about these fries and they’ve even taken them back and returned with freshly cooked batches to see if it made a difference. In the end they usually agree that the fries really aren’t their strong suit.

What could possibly explain this? I *have* to think that owner Ted Turner or whomever is proxying for him in selecting the menu items simply has dramatically different tastes than I do. If it was a case of bad ingredients or sloppy cooking technique surely replacement fries and different restaurants would uncover that.

Have you ever gone to a seafood restaurant and ordered a steak? I always find that they never do a very good job of it, frequently charring the meat and making it as unpalatable as possible. You may argue that it’s not their forté, after all they *are* a seafood house. But I argue that, if you can grill fish without scorching it, you can certainly at least not massacre a steak. No, I’m subscribing to the more paranoid notion that chefs that work at a seafood restaurant feel that if you visit such an establishment and order something so culinarily contrary to the restaurant’s mission, you deserve to have a terrible meal.

I’m tending towards a similar theory for Ted’s Montana Grill French fries. Could it be that food elitists feel that ordering the lowly French fry with your exquisite Bison-based meal is tantamount to heresy? And your punishment is to endure the worst that can be offered?

As you may have guessed by now, French fries are an extraodinarily important aspect of most restaurant’s offerings. If they aren’t good, I’m usually not a repeat customer.

Celebrity Zenith Gulf Cruise

**Update 1/18/2006 – Finally got the pictures developed and posted. Check out the gallery **

Mich and I recently came back from a cruise through the Western Caribbean (Gulf of Mexico) on board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Zenith ship.

This is only our second cruise, the first being back in 2002 when we did a Carnival cruise on the Fascination to the Bahamas.

I’ll post pictures as soon as we get them developed. My little DiMage X50 camera is still in the repair shop recovering from damage sustained after a couple of drops to the floor during the Halloween party. Hopefully we’ll have it back this coming Thursday. In the meantime we’ve dusted off our old film camera (and we picked up an underwater disposable for the cruise shore excursion).

Overall we enjoyed this cruise. It was billed as 4 nights and left Miami on December 22nd (2005) at about 5 pm. So really there are about 3 1/3 days of cruise enjoyment. Since you dock at 8:00 am the last day there really isn’t much you can do but wait to get off the ship.

The first stop was in Key West, Florida. We had heard that there was nothing terribly spectacular to see unless you enjoy marine museums so we loitered on the ship in the morning and had a satisfying breakfast before heading out to explore. Never having been to Key West before any and everything there was going to be interesting. We decided to walk the streets with the purpose of ending up at that “You are at the Southernmost point of the Continental U.S.” marker and getting our picture taken there.

The weather was pleasant for us, probably mid-60’s but feeling warmer in the sun, so we were able to wander around in short sleeves comfortably. We didn’t have very long in Key West so after our photo op and exploring a few local shops, we stopped off at a coffee shop and Mich enjoyed her Java fix while I indulged in an oversized cinnamon bun.

The next stop was in Cozumel, Mexico where we indulged in the “Clear Kayak and Beach Snorkle Combo” hosted by the Uvas Beach Club and Marine Park. This was interesting for anybody who is new to kayaking or snorkling but, given Cozumel’s reputation for gorgeous reefs, was very dissapointing on the scenery front. The sea bottom was mostly sand punctuated with largely unspectacular rock outcroppings. We did get to see some little stingrays and, to Mich’s satisfaction, a reasonably large starfish. But for anybody already comfortable and familiar with snorkling and kayaking I’d have to recommend passing on this venue. The guide and the folks working at the venue were all great but there was really very little to see in the water.

Since our ship docked off the port outside of the city, we paid our cab driver an additional $6 to have him drive us into town rather than back to the port after the kayaking so we could explore there.

Cozumel city was VERY quiet that day, this was the 24th of December after all. All the shops were open but there were much fewer people wandering around than I expected. After the girls finished exploring the local shops (OK OK because the local shops were closing and they couldn’t look any more) we headed to Carlos N Charlies, a local hot spot for some drinks before heading back to the ship.

We met Jan and Miera (I’m sure I haven’t spelled that right…) at our dinner table on the cruise ship and had coincidentally all chosen the same shore excursion so we hooked up for checking out the city. They are the other folks you will see at our table in the pictures.

One thing I would change if I could would be to have stayed in Cozumel much later. We were there for most of the day, but the departure time of 8:30 (it changed several times so I’m not sure what it ultimately ended up being) was a little soon for my tastes as I was enjoying the “scenery” at Carlos N Charlies.
Speaking of which, I’d like to thank the girls from our cruise ship who were also in the bar and provided the entertainment for the evening. Carlos N Charlies was pretty quiet when we arrived until they showed up. I think we’ve got some pictures so I’ll post some representative ones when they are developed.

The Zenith itself was a pleasant ship, a little smaller than the Fascination, which is all I know to compare it to, but plenty large enough for us. The Zenith is an older ship that is apparently due for renovation so it wasn’t all sparkling and new. The stateroom was clean and service was pleasant. All the of the ship’s staff that we encountered were helpful and polite.

Our favorite haunt on the ship was the Cova Café. For Mich the Coffee was great, for myself it was the Hot Chocolate Melange that comes as my highest recommendation.

We would definitely sail with Celebrity again.

Best French Fries

I certainly haven’t been everywhere in the world, but I have done my share of travelling. I have to say that the country that has the best French fries in the world – is Morocco.

It doesn’t seem to matter where I went, in hotels or around the souk, if they served chicken (I’m hoping it was chicken), then their French fries were wonderful.

Of course it depends on how you like your fries. But if you enjoy them julienne-style, a little crispy on the outside and moist inside then Morocco gets my vote!

Best Chicken Wings / Fries in Marietta

The best Chicken wings in Atlanta are to be found at the Halftime Café (Sorry, they don’t seem to have a web presence yet. Just this map.). It used to be the Three Dollar Café located on Windy Hill Road in Marietta, Georgia.

The name has changed for all the local Three Dollar Café restaurants in the area, largely to avoid the franchise fees, but the food has remained the same. And their Chicken Wings are the best basic wings I’ve yet encountered.

As an added bonus, their French Fries – despite being beefeater fries – are also excellent.

Some perspective on Wal*Mart

An excellent write-up on some of the issues facing Wal*Mart by Paul Jacob.

I was watching on the news yesterday how various groups were upset with Wal*Mart and are trying to get bills passed to force the retailer to provide health-care plans for its employees. Since when is a company obligated to provide such? Sure, plenty of companies do as a perk. Health-care plans are nice-to-have options that supposedly make some companies more attractive to work for than others. But using government power to force companies to provide this benefit is simply another example of government vastly exceding its mandate.
I have no problems with folks boycotting Wal*Mart, that’s their right and they are free to shop wherever they choose and to encourage others to do the same.

DirecTV TIVO 30 second skip gone?

*Update 11/21/2005* OK, I don’t know what is different today but trying to apply the TIVO 30 second skip hack works just fine now. I must have attempted to apply it a half dozen times on Saturday and now, *presto*, it works like a charm. I guess it was a false alarm.

I still mean what I say below about making the ads more enticing…
*End Update*

Hey, has anybody else noticed that the 30 second skip is no longer working for DirecTV’s TIVO? I use it all the time to jump past the less imaginative commercials. Now I find that it just suddenly stopped working. As near as I can figure, it seems like it disappeared sometime between November 17 and November 19. 🙁

I don’t see anything about this on the DirecTV site but I’ve sent them an email to ask them to confirm that this is so.

I’m not sure why we have to have this constant battle between advertisers and viewers. Surely it’s obvious that the reason folks don’t watch most TV commercials is that they are dreck.
The existence of TV programs dedicated to airing amusing or well done ads proves that folks are willing to watch them if they are entertaining.

The solution lies not in forcing folks to watch terrible ads, but rather to produce ads that folks are willing to watch. I personally will rewind and watch an ad if it looks like it was interesting or clever. And I will quickly skip past one that is not. It ain’t rocket science to figure out the solution here.

And given the ability of TIVO (and I’m sure other DVR / PVR solutions) to discern what exactly it is that you are viewing (this was highlighted in the Janet Jackson boob debacle) it certainly is not a stretch to believe that advertisers can find out what kinds of ads we are willing to watch and tailor their content to meet our tastes…

RFID Tags and their implications

I was just talking to my wife about RFID tags (yes, I know scintillating conversation for a Sunday morning) and we were discussing some of the both cool and scary uses to which the technology can be put.

On the one hand checkout at the supermarket can be as simple as just rolling your cart out the door (assuming you can bag your items in the cart while you shop). It’s just a matter of time until your credit and debit cards will also have little RFID tags as well. So, in addition to scanning your purchases the store also knows the means you have available to pay for them. All you’d need to do is to select from a list of cards that the scanner had detected on your person and the slowest part of the transaction would be having the receipt printed.

Now picture shopping with a friend. It might be fun if they walked through the shopping scanner with you. You could just select one of their credit accounts! 🙂 I know there will be some validation but the idea tickled me.

But one of the best (ab)uses of RFID technology will be when this generation of tech savvy kids come into the living room on a blustery late-December morning and find grandma proudly placing carefully wrapped Christmas packages around the base of the tree. She’ll look up at them and see the eagerness in their eyes and admonish cheerily, “Now these gifts are to stay right where they are until Christmas morning.”. The children nod happily and pull out their gameboy (or whatever the current handheld gaming/PDA/Cellular Phone toy is called by then) and wave it over the base of the tree.

While turning to leave to go play with their friends outside they call back over their shoulder, “Thanks for the sweater Grandma, the size is a little small for me but I can exchange it for a larger one if you leave the gift receipt with mom and dad. And I can’t wait to play with that new Fast’n’Furious XXII!”

Good car repair experience

I took my venerable Honda Odyssey EX (1997) in for a combo 95K and 105K servicing – this was a biggie – timing belt, radiator flushing and pretty much everything else that you do to your car. I’ve got only 104,000 miles on her and those were the original brakes that were finally replaced. They weren’t even squeaking yet!

The last time I had my car serviced, primarily to reduce the “ticking” that comes from too much space between the camshaft and the valves, I didn’t notice any real change at all and was quite disappointed.

This time, however the engine purrs and a weird noise I used to get when the engine was shifting are now a thing of the past (turns out it was a broken engine mount rather than a transaxle issue I’d been fearing).

The only issue remaining is that now my front brake *does* squeal. I’ve got to bring the car back in for that 🙁 . But beside that I was very happy with Ed Voyles Honda here in Marietta.