Tag Archives: linux

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


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


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.

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!

Installing Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary on Ubuntu GNU/Linux

It is interesting how the mind can store away important facts and make them available later.

Last summer, while reading an article by Dr. Drang about Markdown, I stumbled upon a new word, ‘limn’. I almost looked it up but instead allowed my laziness to get the better of me.

After reading the article, I went on to the next feed in my RSS reader (NewsBlur), Gabe Weatherhead’s Macdrifter. The first post that day was an article about using a better dictionary. What does he show in the example image? An image of a dictionary page with the listing for ‘limn’! It also had a very nice jab at Dr. Drang about how a dictionary can act "as a translation guide for communicating with the ancients." Ha!

screenshot of Macdrifter article

Screen capture of Gabe Weatherhead’s Macdrifter article

Gabe’s dictionary post points to a fantastic article titled, "You’re probably using the wrong dictionary" by author James Somers. It is a wonderful read and I highly recommend spending some time absorbing it.

Toward the end of James’ post he provides directions on downloading and using Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (written in 1828 and revised in 1913).

After reading that article, I dutifully followed the instructions and added the dictionary to my mac and never looked back.

Fast forward to today, more than a year later. I happened upon the word ‘Epistemic’ while reading a paper by Krista Muis published in Educational Psychologist. I went directly to my Dictionary app… Oh, right, I’m no longer on a Mac.

My brain instantly recalled the chain of events that led to my downloading and installing the old Webster’s dictionary on my Mac. Now that I’m on a Linux machine I had to have Webster’s 1913 dictionary on my computer. I managed to get everything working. While Webster’s 1913 dictionary did not end up having the definition of ‘epistemic’ it did have the definition of epistemology that got me pointed in the right direction.

In the spirit of sharing, here are the instructions.

Install and use Webster’s 1913 dictionary on Ubuntu GNU/Linux

  • Download the dictionary file from James Somers at this link.
  • Locate the downloaded file dictionary.zip and extract the contents.
  • Unzipping dictionary.zip will yield two folders:
    • __MACOSX – not needed, delete it
    • dictionary – keep
  • Navigate into dictionary and unzip the file named stardict-dictd-web1913-2.4.2.tar.bz2.
  • The resulting folder stardict-dictd-web1913-2.4.2 is your new dictionary folder.

Now you need a dictionary app to read the dictionary folder you just set up. I recommend that you download GoldenDict from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Follow these instructions in GoldenDict to get the Webster’s dictionary up and running:

  • Press the F3 key (or Edit –> Dictionaries…) to get the Dictionaries preference pane
  • Click on the ‘Add…’ button.
  • Navigate to the stardict-dictd-web1913-2.4.2 folder, highlight it, and click on the ‘Open’ button.
  • Click the ‘OK’ button.

Enjoy using your new dictionary.


Screen capture of GoldenDict on Ubuntu GNU/Linux

Thanks, Dr. Drang, for using such an seldom used word that triggered this adventure.

If all of this is too much for you, the dictionary can also be viewed online.