Category Archives: Eduardo Approved

Review: Lenovo ThinkPad x220

This is my review of the Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop.

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

front view of x220

Last summer I was testing out an HP Stream 11 laptop. While I loved it for its price and portability, it sometimes choked under a heavy load. This led me to search Craigslist for something a little beefier.

I had used a Lenovo ThinkPad T430 with a quad-core i7 Intel processor as my work laptop for a few years and had grown to respect it. So, when it came time for me to replace the HP Stream 11 (which went to my niece), I ended up going with the T430’s smaller and older brother: the Lenovo ThinkPad x220 (released in 2011). I picked it up from a local Craigslist seller for $230 with Windows 7 and Office 2010 installed. I immediately swapped out the hard drive with an SSD with Ubuntu GNU/Linux. I have used it for a year now and I must say that it is a great little laptop.

What I like about the x220

  • small – Its footprint is about the size of a sheet of paper which makes it very portable.
  • battery – The replaceable battery lasts 6 to 8 hours. A full-day battery is also available.
  • cpu – Even though it is 5-years “old”, the quad-core i5 processor hasn’t choked under load yet.
  • OS – Ubuntu GNU/Linux works great on this laptop …everything just works.
  • modular – Since this was a best seller for corporate computer rental fleets, many spare parts and repair guides are readily available. I have replaced hard drive and wrist pad.
  • multi-monitor – The graphics card can support an external monitor in addition to the built-in LCD screen. Theoretically, it can even support 2 external monitors (built-in LCD must be disabled) with the use of a docking station – but I haven’t tested this.
  • on/off switch for WiFi – This allows you to quickly and easily turn WiFi on or off.
  • ethernet jack – It has a full-size (not fold-down) ethernet jack for fast network transfers.
  • keyboard – I LOVE this keyboard. The spacing of the keys is perfect for touch typists. Specifically, I love the gaps between function key groups and comically large Esc and Delete keys. The placement of the PgUp/PgDn and arrow keys means that I almost never have to look at my hands.
  • video ports – The x220 has both an old-school VGA port and a new-school full-size DisplayPort to connect to older and newer monitors. Together with my DisplayPort-mini DisplayPort adapter and mini DisplayPort-to-everything adapter I can connect to almost monitor.
Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of the x220 keyboard

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of left-side ports

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of right-side ports

Modifications

Here is a listing of the modifications I made to this laptop.

  • 16 GB RAM – Although the spec sheet lists the maximum RAM at 8 GB, I can confirm that 16 GB of RAM is recognized and used.
  • 250 GB mSATA drive – I added this sweet, tiny mSATA drive as the boot drive – it really makes this computer FLY! Startup time is on the order of seconds.
  • 240 GB SATA SSD – I added this 2.5-inch SSD about 6 months ago to store virtual machines that I spin up for testing or one-time use. The fact that it can fit both a 2.5-inch SATA drive and an mSATA drive means that you can have 2 TB or more of storage on this tiny computer.
  • 3M Privacy Filter – I travel a lot. That means a lot of nosy people on buses, trains, and planes try to sneak a peek at what I’m working on. While I have nothing interesting on this computer, I still don’t feel like anyone has the right to invade my privacy. Luckily this privacy guard makes it impossible for anyone not sitting directly in front of the computer to see what is on the screen.
  • dock – I was able to buy a dock on eBay for less than $40 bucks. This enables me to quickly connect an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, power, and ethernet …soooo convenient.
Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

x220 with 3M Privacy Guard on the screen

Conclusion

If you are looking for a cheap, tough, powerful, upgradable, easy-to-fix laptop (especially one that runs GNU/Linux), look into the Lenovo ThinkPad x220.

ISO/RTO Presentation: Mindset

I gave a talk about mindset at the annual ISO/RTO Training Working Group meeting in Toronto today.

Here is a list of some of the resources I used in my presentation.

Resources

  • Carol Dweck’s Stanford Bio Page – includes listing of PDF versions of her academic research papers
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck – link to the her very readable book
  • Mindsetkit.org – contains lots of ideas (easily re-purposed adult education) for incorporating growth mindset in learning
  • My Favorite No – YouTube video showing how to use mistakes to reinforce learning and promote growth
  • Mistake Game – post on high school physics teacher, Kelly O’Shea’s, blog detailing a game that uses student-inserted intentional mistakes to promote growth class-wide
  • Growing Your Mind – YouTube video by Khan Academy’s Sal Khan explains how the mind can grow

[EDIT 2016-06-23T12:27Z – added descriptions to links]

Podcasts in my Queue

I have been a heavy podcast listener since around 2003/2004. I started by listening to former MTV VJ, Adam Curry’s, Daily Source Code. Since then, not a day has gone by without some podcast listening.

Here is a list of what is in my queue and why it is there:

screenshot of my podcast player

Screenshot of my podcast player

  • DTNS – Tom Merrit’s Daily Tech News Show (DTNS) is my …uh …daily tech news show. I listen to this show every morning as I am getting ready for work. It is an easy way to keep up with all the tech news worth knowing.
  • Security Now – This podcast has been in my queue for years. It is probably my favorite podcast because it dives deep into privacy and security – two things that really matter to me.
  • Teaching in HigherEd – Although I am not “teaching in higher ed” I find a lot of the things that Professor Bonni Stachowiak discusses with her guests applies directly to adult learning. This podcast is the one that most aligns with my job. Bonni has the best guests on this show. I highly recommend it if you are interested in adult learning and educational technology. I wrote about this show before here.
  • The Linux Action Show! and LINUX Unplugged – These two shows satisfy my weekly Linux nerd needs. Chris and his co-hosts and virtual Linux User Group provide tons of great Linux and free software news and entertainment.
  • The eLearning Coach Podcast – Connie Malamed’s wonderful show has tons of information useful to me as an instructional designer. If you have a job where you make or give training, this is a show for you. All of the guests on this show are the well-known learning professionals from around the web. You will learn TONS from listening to this show.
  • The Ihnatko Almanac – This is the outlet for Chicago Sun Times columnist, Andy Ihnatko. Dan Benjamin joins Andy for stories and miscellaneous musings. Andy is hilarious and his views on life are classic. This podcast does not seem to have any strict release schedule but when I see it pop up in my queue it jumps over pretty much everything else. By the way, Andy’s writing is fantastic. I wrote about his writing style previously.
  • Mac Power Users – Even though I have reduced my Mac usage to less than 1% of my total computer usage (Linux all the way – woohoo!!!), I still love listening to Katie Floyd and David Sparks talk about the interesting way they are using computers in their respective law practices and in their creative lives. If you use a Mac, I highly recommend giving this show a listen. I found out about this show about one year after they started recording. After I listened to the first show, I went back and listened to everything from episode 1. These guys are serious Mac power users.

That is my queue. I hope you find some of these podcasts as entertaining as I do.

Share your podcast recommendations in the comments!

Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast

For the last 7 years I have had anywhere from a 60-minute to 4-hour round-trip commute. How do I constructively spend my drive time? Podcasts.

Finding my recent favorite podcast was a fluke. I heard the host, Bonni Stachowiak, on one of my regular podcasts, Mac Power Users. She impressed me as being both equally smart and cool. I decided to check out her podcast …I am soooo glad that I did.

Professor Stachowiak teaches college business classes in California. Her podcast is titled, Teaching in Higher Ed. It deals with adult learning, productivity, educational technology, and mindfulness.

After I listened to the first few episodes, I immediately downloaded every single episode and put her in my #1 listening spot until I caught up to real-time. Yes, it’s that good.

The thing that makes Dr. Bonni great is her positive attitude and her spectacular guests from the field of higher education.

Some of my favorite episodes:

Samsonite Xenon 2 Backpack

Samsonite Xenon 2 backpack - exterior

Samsonite Xenon 2 backpack – exterior


My favorite computer bag is the Samsonite Xenon 2 backpack. My wife found this for me when we were stuck in Fort Lauderdale after all outgoing flights got cancelled.

What I love about it:

  • Travel friendly – the computer section unzips to lay flat for airport X-ray machines
  • Five compartments – this bag has two bottle pockets (I use these for an umbrella and my coffee mug) on the exterior and 5 zippered compartments (2 tiny compartments, 1 iPad-sized compartment, and 2 large compartments)
  • Huge – I have squeezed a Lenovo T430, a Lenovo x220, and an HP Stream 11 in this bag at the same time along with all the other stuff I normally carry
  • Nooks and crannys – the interior sections are split to keep things organized
  • Carry handle – there is a comfortable handle at the top of the bag for times when you don’t want to sling it over your shoulder
  • Sits upright – more than any other bag, this one can sit upright pretty well as long as the laptop section zippers are not completely unzipped
  • Easy access – it is very easy to get stuff into and out of this bag using only one hand
  • Stackable – this bag has a loop that will fit over your rolling bag’s handles
  • Padding – there is thick padding on the side that comes in contact with your body
  • Lining – the two tiny pockets and the computer sleeve have a very soft lining

What could be better:

  • Zippers open on their own – I have had zippers on the 2 largest compartments slowly unzip many times. I remedied this by hooking the two zipperheads on each compartment together with mini-caribiners
  • Key hook – there is nothing to hang your keys on – weird since even cheap backpacks come with a key hook these days
  • Computer padding – although there is padding around the laptop section, it could be thicker – especially at the bottom of the bag

This bag has been my daily carry bag since the beginning of 2014. I have taken it on every trip that I have taken. It continues to serve me well. If you are looking for a well-made and well-designed computer backpack, consider this Samsonite Xenon 2 backpack.

Ting: a positive mobile experience

My wife and have had iPhone since they first came out. These are expensive phones …too expensive when phone and data plans cost so much. After our Sprint contracts on our iPhone 4S phones was over I searched for and found a plan that saved us a ton of money: Ting.

Ting is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that provides cell phone service riding on top of the T-Mobile and Sprint cell phone networks. Ting only charges you for what you use in the categories of data, phone, and text messages. Ting charges each category separately.

Our first full month on Ting was December, 2013. Before switching to Ting our Sprint bill for two iPhones was $143 per month. Since we shifted to Ting, our monthly bills have averaged $65 – less than half of what we paid to Sprint.

ting dashboard

Screenshot of the ting dashboard with price breakdown by category (image: Eduardo Sanchez CC-BY-NC)

Ting is not the only MVNO out there. Search around and you can find multiple MVNOs on the major carriers.

I highly recommend Ting. You can move your unlocked Sprint or T-Mobile phone over to Ting or you can buy a new phone to use on the Ting network. Break free of unnecessary contracts and switch to an MVNO like Ting.