For years, I had wanted to travel to South Africa. Sure, London and Barcelona are lively, full of culture and history and tantalizing foods, but South Africa was always in the back of my mind while I traveled. Though I would like to say that my knowledge of the country came from textbooks, history class, and CNN, the truth is movies like A Dry White Season and Cry Freedom exposed the past of the country, where apartheid was a part of life (of course, coming from a country where segregation was common 65 years ago, I felt a connection); the movies also exposed me to the raw, natural beauty that the country offers, so distinct from my little world in the city. I made South African pen pals, read more about the history, became increasingly enchanted, and finally put enough money aside to complete a 1200 mile road trip with my friend Jan de Wet and my American friend Virginia. Our trip began in Cape Town, we we traveled up to the Northern Cape and back to where we started in the course of nine days.
To describe my trip in any significant detail would be beyond the scope of my blog. But the diversity of wildlife and ecosystems we encountered was astounding. In a single day around Cape Town, we encountered seals and dossies (badger-like rodents), penguins, ostriches, and geckos. Meanwhile, in Outdshoorn, we were dodging baboons crossing the road. To put things in perspective, Table Mountain in Cape Town has more biodiversity than all of the British Isles. The experiences I had—petting a cheetah, feeding an elephant, riding an ostrich—are sadly some I may never have again.
The vistas were, as you’d imagine, equally memorable: atop Table Mountain at night, we saw Cape Town twinkling below; above us in Clanwilliam, the stars shone brightly in some of the darkest skies in the world. Throughout the journey, we wound through mountains, some lush, others barren. Other times, we would find ourselves driving on mile upon mile (or kilometer upon kilometer) of dirt roads traversing the plain, with only sheep and windmills as our companions; in Williston, a village where the hand-crafted tombstones of long-dead settlers seem to outnumber the villagers, we were isolated in this oasis of the arid shrubland that enveloped us. At times, yes, we felt alone. But we also felt a profound connection to those long before us in such locations as the Sevilla Trail in Cederberg: seeing the rock art, or ochre paintings of cattle, hunters with bow and arrow (and big breasted women), created by Bushmen 8000 to 800 years ago was one of the most touching parts of the trip. Oh, and the hotels we stayed in—four stars for $70—I cannot complain (though I will say that my favorite stay was in a former shepherd’s home at the De Poort Country Lodge.)
As a side quest of my trip, I promised Dr. Nancy O’Connor, who teaches invertebrate anatomy at UMass Dartmouth, some new specimens for her class. As a student who only took vertebrate anatomy, I was a bit clueless about what I was collecting. Even so, I think I amassed a decent collection at Cape Aguilhas, the southernmost point of Africa and also where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. If you can identify any of the species, let me know! Seashells all look about the same to me. I know there’s some type of urchin there. And, as Dr. O’Connor studies the invasive Asian shore crab, I made sure to bring her the exoskeleton of a crab.
More than anything else, this trip was just a time to share in adventure. We spent nearly every moment together, both inside the car and outside of it, and had to deal with a flat tire, smoking brakes, and a shattered window. We survived the trip and all of us, including Jan, made new friends and discovered new places.
This is the point where I blatantly advertise my love for Lenovo. In addition to my human companions, there were three major companions on my trip: My journal from Italy, my ThinkPad professional backpack, and my T420s. My journal accompanies me on every journey. I tend to jot the locations I explored for the day and major events to accompany any photographs we take. My ThinkPad backpack is durable and spacious and easily fits a change of clothes, my laptop, a few National Geographics, and souvenirs (and, yes, I used my backpack incessantly. Even on the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, my ThinkPad was strapped to my back in 90 degree weather). Now, as I’ve mentioned my T400 is my baby, but I bought the T420s specifically for this trip—at 5.7 pounds with the 9 cell battery, my T400 isn’t exactly the lightest travel companion and with its age, it’s not the speediest either. In contrast, at 4 pounds, an i5 processor, a much thinner profile, and a SSD drive, my T420s is as durable as my T400, able to survive scorching heat and dusty roads, but lighter, faster, and even better on battery life.
I used my laptop on the go to book hotel rooms, get directions, type in my diary, respond to Emails at the end of the day, and make some Skype calls; the traditional laptop, I find, is much more comfortable than navigating a cell phone or tablet in a hurry. Why did I buy a slightly older laptop (2011)?: I learned from my losing a Canon SLR in Spain last year that I prefer traveling with electronics that can be replaced without breaking the bank. Moreover, I had to be realistic about South Africa; though it is a country I love and would return to in a heartbeat, theft is common. For this reason, I often suggest choosing a modern, but refurbished laptop from the Lenovo Outlet or even the IBM Store as a backup PC. I have purchased a few laptops from eBay, and while prices are frequently lower, often times, so is their quality. I’ve received a T60 with screws missing and a fan that wouldn’t stop whirring, a T41 with a BIOS password (if you receive a ThinkPad with a BIOS password, just give up if the previous owner doesn’t remember the password), and multiple laptops advertised described as having “good” batteries that actually couldn’t hold a charge. Purchases from Lenovo and IBM are generally more trustworthy, and, on the upside, purchases from the Lenovo Outlet are backed by a 1 year warranty
Okay, now that I’m done promoting Lenovo, I would recommend buying a ticket to South Africa, whether a Lenovo product will be joining you or not. Drink some of the best wines. Experience some of the most beautiful scenery in world. Eat exotic meats. Make some new friends. Be inspired. And if you need any recommendations, contact me.
A friend of mine, and perhaps the greatest ThinkPad enthusiast that you will meet, had the good fortune of meeting David Hill, the Vice President of Lenovo corporate identity & design for Lenovo. For five to six hours at CES, Jin Li spoke to David to tell him why there is a love of ThinkPads, and why some ThinkPadders collect them.
Jin Li created a basic outline on what some of the discussion were, and how die hard ThinkPadders feel about ThinkPads ( he also included comparison to other brands). Below you will find the presentation he created.
The only part of Jin Li's presentation that I disagree with is equating the prestige of owning a ThinkPad in 1994 to owning a Mac in 2015: in 1994, the IBM 755CD cost over $6000, or about $9000 in today's money. A $2500 MacBook Pro seems like quite the bargain in comparison! I will agree, however, that a ThinkPad is not as great a status symbol as it once was (but neither is a Mac)...both do say something about the owner, though...A black box represents me better :)
The IBM Thinkpad 755CD was a status symbol when it was released in 1994. Imagine owning the first laptop with a built-in CD-ROM!
I decided that this year I wanted to make someone's Christmas a little magical. I surprised a former student of mine and current teacher at BMC Durfee High School with a new Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. I hope that it aids him in a profession that's stressful and not always rewarding and in any future endeavors. Perhaps it was a little cruel to surprise my unassuming friend, who thought was only helping showcase the product, but his reaction was worth it. The event was captured on video, which I happily had recorded.
Merry Christmas, Alex!
Though the Yoga is a consumer device, it is clear Lenovo is also targeting the device to professionals: “From writing proposals and building presentations, to emailing and online shopping,” Lenovo promises that “the enhanced performance features of the Lenovo YOGA 3 Pro" will "help you get more done.” As such, I decided to use the laptop as I would as a student in an academic laboratory. I will very briefly describe the various features I liked about the Yoga.
In 2010, while a student in Dr. Erin Bromage’s lab, we made the switch from paper notebooks to electronic lab notebooks (ELN) using Microsoft OneNote; similarly, when I started working in industry, they had switched to ELN produced by Waters. Using OneNote proved to be very useful: Cutting and pasting images into the document could be done in an instant without tape and scissors, Excel files (or files of any type) could be inserted directly onto the page of the corresponding experiment, searching for keywords was possible, the fear of misplacing/staining a notebook no longer existed, and my PI could look at my progress in real-time (a mixed blessing) and provide advice from a remote location.
There were, however, some downsides to switching to an ELN. Though it’s often very convenient being able to type and insert shapes, sometimes it’s quicker to scribble a few words or sketch an arrow. Moreover, my T400, at over 4 pounds, was considerably more heavy and bulky than paper notebooks. With the Yoga, both of those complaints are negated.
Aside from being a lab notebook, my Lenovo T400 was my workhorse. However, data analysis involving densitometric scans of gels, for instance, and editing images for publication were done on separate monitors with more accurate colors, higher resolutions, and better viewing angles. In contrast, the Yoga’s 13.3-inch screen at a 3,200x1,800-pixel resolution is stunning and does not suffer from the color inversion that my old TN screen suffered.
Outside of lab work, as is the case for all grad students, I had to keep up with the current scientific literature. The majority of the time, I would print the articles out—at least for me, there’s something reassuring about ink on paper, being able to read a few articles comfortably during a commute, and being able to jot a few notes directly on the paper. Though I’m not confident any device will ever cease my predilection for hard copies, the Yoga 3 Pro makes me one step closer. As mentioned previously, a selling point of the Yoga is that it conveniently converts to a tablet, which I find much more pleasurable for reading; and when reading a pdf in tablet mode, the Yoga automatically switches to ‘Paper’ mode, mimicking the look of ink on paper. As this is a touchscreen, it is possible to take a few notes on a paper.
Last, it was common for us to learn the principles of a technique by watching online videos, often on a separate monitor. The tent mode works perfectly for such situations. I can picture my lab mates and I gathering around my Yoga 3 (so cozy) with its great viewing angles and its JBL speakers providing loud, clear audio over our jokes and gossip.
I think it's clear that I like the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. While it's a fun device that many consumers will enjoy for media consumption, social networking, in addition to work, I see it more as a serious professional device. It is durable, light weight, flexible for many applications, and powerful enough for everyday use. Though I have demonstrated how it could be used in the lab, it is easy to imagine how it could be used in many different professions like teaching--for instance, it would be great to prepare a lecture in laptop mode, rehearse the presentation in tent mode, brush up on material in tablet mode, and ultimately present the lecture in stand mode.
Joining Lenovo's effort to create the world's first 360° selfie to spread some holiday cheer, I decided to keep things simple with my kitty who just turned twelve years old. As much as I loved my trip to South Africa, an astounding vacation that I will describe in a future post, one thing that surprised me was the casual attitude towards Christmas...I didn't spot a single real Christmas tree, only an occasional street was decorated, homes weren't festooned with strings of lights, there were no Christmas manger scenes. Being a New England boy, I love Christmas...and there really is no place like home for the holidays.
As beautiful as Cape Town was, I will never equate summer in December with Christmas. This video was taken during my trip in South Africa.
In addition to shooting 35mm film on vintage cameras, I also enjoying making cyanotypes of the images. Though the cyanotype process is now used in alternative photography to make prints from negatives, it was primarily used from the mid-1800s into the 20th century as a low-cost, simple method to produce blueprints. The process uses two chemicals, ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide, instead of the typical silver halide salts used in photography; when combined, they create a sensitizer that, when exposed to light, ultimately produces ferric ferricyanaide, also known as Prussian blue (as a piece of trivia, remember that Prussian blue was used in medicine as a sequestering agent for heavy metal poisons and is used in histopathology as a stain).
I’ve always been interested in the chemistry behind photographic processes (as long as my limited chemistry comprehension allows me to grasp the reactions). For the chemistry geeks out there, here’s the reaction that takes place:
Now, what drew me to cyanotypes was not only the unique blue prints, but also their use by Anna Atkins, regarded by some as the first female photographer, to document ferns, seaweeds, and other plant-life in such works as Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843) and Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853). Atkins placed her specimens directly on the sensitized paper and the result was a silhouette effect. Sadly, throughout my career both as a student and scientist, I gained only a minute understanding of botany; much of my exposure, from vascular tissue to hormones to plant life cycles to the titillating Casparian strip, was actually in high school by Dr. Sandy Mitra, a graduate from Cornell University who taught at BMC Durfee High School. Later, I would learn about the immune system of plants. From high school to the present, I’ve always had an appreciation for my green friends (I will write about creating anthotypes in the future), but whether you want to create silhouettes of leaves or prints from negatives, this tutorial should be helpful.
· Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. (A liquid cyanotype kit containing both solutions can be obtained online from Photographers’ Formulary for $18.00. The kit can produce an estimated twenty-four 8x10’s.)
· Watercolor paper (recommended, but other paper works, as do textiles containing at least 50% cotton)
· Teaspoon (or a graduated cylinder or pipette for those fortunate enough to work in a laboratory setting.)
· Scotch tape
· Hake brush (recommended, but paint brushes or foam brushes are fine)
· Transparency sheets ( used for printing negatives on) or objects for creating silhouettes (e.g., leaves, ferns, paper cut-outs)
· Glass plate large enough to cover image to be printed
· Running water (from a sink, for instance. Note that hard water will affect the final image color)
· UV light source (the Sun works great and is free, but a UV light allows for greater predictability of exposure times)
1. Prepare the negatives or objects you wish to use to create the print. If using objects, objects must be flat enough to be sandwiched beneath a glass pane; creating these silhouettes (photograms) is a great introduction to the cyanotype process, since it is nearly impossible to overexpose the image. If using a negative to reproduce a photograph, create a negative by inverting the color of a digital image (e.g., "invert color" in Microsoft Paint) and printing on transparency sheets; make sure to choose "transparency" for the paper type under printing options.
2. Mix the chemicals in a room free from natural light: If using dry chemicals, create a 25% (m/v) solution of ferric ammonium citrate and 10% (m/v) solution of potassium ferricyanide. Combine the solutions in equal proportions. If using The Photographers’ Formulary Kit, simply combine the two solutions in equal proportions—from my experience, ¼ teaspoon (1.2 ml) of each solution produces enough volume to coat about half a sheet of watercolor paper (note that the sensitized solution should be used soon after preparation).
3. Prepare your work area and the canvas: Let’s avoid a mess here. Spread some newspapers over the work area and possibly get yourself some gloves. Now, in a dimly lit or tungsten lit environment, coat the paper as evenly as possible. Allow the paper to dry in the dark or hasten the process with a hair dryer.
4: Print the cyanotype: Once the paper is dry, do not touch with bare hands. Secure your objects with scotch tape on the coated paper; ensure that it will be possible to inspect the progress of exposure without loss of registration (for example, secure the top and a side of a transparency). In the sunlight or under a sunlamp, place the glass frame on top of the negative/object and allow for the cyanotype to print-out—exposure will likely take 10-20 minutes, but may vary considerably depending on the intensity of the sun. Check the print periodically, and expose until the high values have more tone than desired in the final print and shadows have begun to reverse. Highlights will lighten upon washing; thus, an apparent overexposure is necessary. Note that underexposed images will wash away in the next step; overexposed images will be too dark.
5: Process and dry: When the print has been exposed, process your print by rinsing under running water for at least 5 minutes. This removes any unexposed chemicals, ceasing the process of development. Oxidation will also be accelerated, bringing out the blue color. The final print can now be hung to dry. The image is colorfast, so enjoy showing it off!
Cyanotype Toning (Optional)
Because of my little experiencing toning images, I recommend following the tutorial found on this site https://mpaulphotography.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/cyanotype-toning-the-basics/
My Toning Method
I've had fun experimenting with toning my cyanotypes. A quick method that has provided interesting results for me is soaking my dried cyanotype in diluted Clorox bleach for several seconds. Once the color shifts from blue to beige, I immediately rinse the paper under running tap water (the color will continue to fade during this time until the bleach is fully rinsed out). To tone the image, I've found that soaking in red wine for several minutes has provided a dark beige color that I find pleasing. I have tried toning in tea, but I find the image to be more black than brown, and not particularly to my taste. A word of advice--if you tone and do not approve of the color, give it a quick rinse in bleach and tone again!
Though it had been rumored for some time that Lenovo was seeking to acquire BlackBerry, it is seeming more likely that BlackBerry will seek a partnership with Lenovo. Earlier this week, BlackBerry CEO John Chen met with Lenovo's head Yang Yuanqing, as he sees China as a market that seeks the security, encryption, and privacy that BlackBerry can offer.
It is interesting to note that in 2009, Lenovo announced that the two companies would be working together to provide users with ThinkPad and BlackBerry integration through a service known as Lenovo Constant Connect. By employing a Bluetooth-enabled ExpressCard with a range of 30 feet and 500 MB of storage and retailing for $150, it allowed users on the go to receive, compose, and send corporate e-mail using only the BlackBerry wireless connection (and thus obviating the need for Wi-Fi).
As a new BlackBerry user (I purchased my first BlackBerry Q10 a year ago), I will confess that I hope the partnership with Lenovo is realized. I've always imagined that with the excellent keyboard, exceptional battery life, great security and build, that my BB is my ThinkPad's younger sibling (I should also add that OS10 is my favorite OS on any phone).
One activity I enjoy on these cool, autumn nights is attempting to spot the International Space Station with a group of friends. Tonight, in fact, the ISS will be visible from my home in North Dartmouth. Sometimes I'm able to spot the station and other times...well, stars obstruct my view. If you are interested in determining when the ISS will be visible from your location, you can easily determine when you can "Spot the Station."
As I mentioned previously, IBM and Lenovo have long had a presence on the ISS. Gizmodo presented an interesting article, with some trivia related to this blog. For instance, "There are, last time I checked, about 80 laptops deployed throughout the ISS. Most of them are Lenovo T61P laptops, but there are still a few old Lenovo A31p Thinkpads floating around." Yes, those Lenovo T61's are even older than my circa 2008 Lenovo T400, but they are tanks! As an interesting side note, in a press release in 1997, IBM announced that the ThinkPad 760ED, with a whopping 133 MHz processor, would be the fastest notebook computer flown in space; the computer was only slightly modified for use in space.
As for why laptops are used instead of physical interfaces, "When the ISS was being designed, its architects wisely concluded that installing physical interfaces into the structure of the ISS was not a good idea. It's very hard to upgrade and/or repair interfaces that are part of the vehicle, whereas if laptop computers are used, upgrading or repair is as simple as launching a CD-ROM, uploading a file, or replacing the laptop. So with the exception of emergency hardware (e.g. ventilation valves), comm panels, and a limited set of other hardware, almost all vehicle commanding is done via a laptop interface."
Keeping sailing the skies, Lenovo. "To infinity...and beyond!"
It's hard to believe that in 30 years Lenovo has grown from a company housed in a guard shack in Beijing to the number one PC maker in the world. Lenovo is not a Chinese company, but a worldwide company that grew out of China--and so I congratulate with the Lenovo employees from North Carolina to Hong Kong on their success!
Whenever I see old devices given new life, my heart skips a beat. I had to admire the work done by this year's winner of the IBM Smarter Planet Award. Joe Hounsham of Plymouth University in the UK modified his 1930s Remington portable typewriter (below Underwood in my order of favorites) to connect to a chat room. Enough of my talking. Just see the Dico in action and commend this work:
As for the utility of the machine, I'm unsure. For me, it's unimportant. It inspires. It stimulates the imagination. It reminds me of something Ray Bradbury would have dreamt of, a writer whose future was one of gears and wires and metal crickets. "Hidden films clocked though well-oiled sprockets, and the walls lived." Most importantly, in an era where these beautiful machines are chopped up to make jewelry, it is a reminder that we can breathe life in discarded machines...I cringe when I see a typewriter that has been mutilated for its glass keys. For more information on the interactive typewriter, click
About Gregory Costa
Gregory Costa is a decent biologist, mediocre writer, terrible formatter, but true Lenovo enthusiast, who admires the use of their products in both the academic and industrial setting...when he's not busy delighting himself in science, nature, or his OkCupid profile.