April 2010

Over the last 15 years of my career, I’ve traveled to a number of cities in Asia and in the US and a few places in Europe (Paris, France, the Canary Islands in Spain and Darmstadt, Germany). Over the years, my membership in Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club, and more recently Priority Pass, has allowed me the opportunity to relax at the airport in the quiet comfort of a business lounge. I’ve only been to a First Class Lounge once (Thai Airway’s in Phuket) and the experience was worth forgetting about.

For the most part, business lounges are a reward by airlines to travelers who frequently favor specific airlines. For instance, when I travel, I would favor traveling on Cathay Pacific because the accumulated air miles would, eventually, allow me to qualify for free access to their business lounges. Why would I want to avail of these lounges?

If you ever traveled by air, it is customary that you are asked to arrive at least two hours ahead of your departure times. Because most check-in processes don’t last over 30 minutes, you wind up having at least an hour to mull around the airport. I suspect this was intended to force you to buy your idle time either at shops or restaurants. Except for fast-food chains, most restaurants and shops at airports are priced higher than downtown. Inevitably you will notice people uncomfortably sleeping at airports. These are passengers who have to sleep the time off waiting for their flights so they can be on their merry way to whichever destination they are headed to.

Early in my travels, I hated airports because many were built not with the comfort of traveling passengers in mind. Most airport seats are made of hard plastic, wood or steel, and more recently synthetic leather. If you sit long enough, your bottom will take on the shape of the seat, including indentions caused by large rivets that protrude off the flat surface of the seat itself. I used to wait for people to stand up from their seats so I can scoot over to their recently vacated seat. Why? It beats the feel of cold steel passing through your jeans and giving your butt frostbite.

Traveling long-haul on economy class is like lining up sardines in a canning factory. Some aircrafts have cramped seats, recliners that don’t always work, toilets that eventually start to smell after the first meal is served, and if fortune doesn’t favor you, a full flight with really hyper children or babies that just won’t stop crying like what happened on my journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco last week. For the record, I have two kids and both traveled economy class by air with me on a number of trips. But I was very fortunate that in both instances, my kids didn’t scream their heads off in any of the trips we took them to.

Back to the lounges

Airport lounges make frequent business travel less painful. These offer a place for you to relax (and prep yourself for the coming flight). They are particularly great when your itinerary involves at least one stopover before your final destination.

Many of these lounges are designed to “pamper” frequent travelers with a limited selection of free food, drinks, free domestic calls, and private toilets. Some lounges, like the one operated by Thai Airways in Phuket or the Cathay Pacific lounge at the old Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila, are a discredit to the brands they carry. Others like the United Airlines Red Carpet lounge in Seattle are reminiscent of hospital corridors, minus the smell of course, an almost lifeless atmosphere save for the warm greeting afforded by the receptionist.

My favorite lounges have, so far, been the British Airways lounges in New York and San Francisco. The layout, atmosphere and amenities are same. It’s like entering a well thought out, classy home. The bigger lounge in New York has two large bars and food kiosks where you can help yourself to food and drinks. If you want a quiet place to read a book, there are reclining seats near resemble beach or patio furniture. A gentle water fountain offers a soothing background noise to quiet your mind. If you want a bit of work, you can go over to one of their workstations.

One lounge amenity I have learned to take advantage of is the shower room. Why? If you find yourself starting to smell like a used carpet after a 12-hour flight, a quick shower with clean towels will have you smelling good and feeling better before your next meeting or next flight.

Below is a video taken by a couple who happen to enjoy the British Airways lounge in Seattle. From what I could see in the video, the setup is very much the same as that in San Francisco and New York, although I note that the New York lounge s bigger compared to the one in San Francisco.

Below are some photos I took of the British Airways (actually I was told its shared by One World members) business lounge at the San Francisco International Airport area.

British Airways SFO lounge reading area

British Airways SFO lounge reading area (a different view)

British Airways SFO lounge self-service bar

British Airways SFO lounge TV screening area

British Airways SFO lounge work area


Email is to business today what fax was 20 years ago. It is hard to see a business card that doesn’t have an email address on it. Indeed it is hard to imagine conducting business without emails. According to CampaignMonitor, in January 2010, Microsoft Outlook, including 200, 2003, Express and 2007, account for 36.7% of all email clients worldwide. [click here for details]

Source: http://www.campaignmonitor.com/stats/email-clients/

As an Outlook user since 1995, I can tell with all honesty that I am quite happy with Outlook. I have used Lotus Notes for a few years prior to Outlook. I am still using hotmail, yahoo mail and Gmail. I love the way Outlook integrates calendar and contacts easily into the email part of the software. I love the fact that synching my Outlook data to my BlackBerry is short of idiot-proof. I also love the idea of sharing my Outlook calendar with my family and synching Outlook calendar with Google calendar was something I thought was going to be a painful exercise.

That said, Outlook has its limitations. For one thing, while you can sort your incoming email by date or sender or subject header, finding a specific email from a specific person, or even leafing through unread emails is something Outlook programmers probably didn’t think of early on in the software’s design. Yes, I can create folders and have rules to automatically perform specific tasks like move or delete emails as and when they arrive.

But it would be great if I can scan through only my unread messages. It would be absolutely great if I can find attachments and the emails that came with it. I can’t remember the number of times I was looking for the one email that had a JPEG attachment.

It would also be nice to see email correspondences with specific people, both as sender and recipient. And I don’t know about you, I’d like to be able to prioritize my emails so that emails that are directed to me as a person – as opposed to those bulk emails or cc’d messages – can get my attention before all other emails thrown at me.

One thing I love about my Outlook contacts is my ability to group contacts according to categories. I often wonder why Outlook designers didn’t see this feature as something worth importing into the email database itself.

Some years back my Outlook client crashed on me – twice over a six month window. The first time, I lost about six months’ worth of email. The second time cost me a couple of months’ worth. In both cases, it was because my PST files got bigger than 2GB, thanks in part to PowerPoint attachments. These days I was told the 2GB barrier is already a non-issue. But as a result of my earlier experience, I have developed the habit of creating PST files and moving old emails to specific PST files, for example 2009.pst holds all emails send and received in 2009, just in case it happens. I don’t understand the archive function of Outlook so I avoid it like the plague.

It also takes, what to me feels like forever, to look a specific email. So it’s another reason why I split my emails to specific years.

Then recently I was asked to review an Outlook add-on software called NEO Pro. Developed by a Dutch company called Caelo Software, the company markets itself as developing solutions for people who spend too much time managing their emails. (more…)

You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all! This used to be my perception of computers – be they servers, desktops, laptops and netbooks. Eight years ago I had the opportunity to visit Nomura Research Institute‘s (NRI) data center in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. What amazed me with this visit was the fact that NRI’s data center showcased servers from every major hardware vendor – IBM, HP, Dell and Hitachi servers were spread out in neat rows. What was even more amazing to me was that unless you looked close enough you will find it difficult to distinguish one brand from the other.

Apple’s success following the return to power of Steve Jobs can be attributable to his choice of designer – Jonathan Paul Ive, an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc. You won’t appreciate Ive’s contribution until you equate his name to the iMac, PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone and iPad. But this review is not about Ive or Apple. It is about Dell’s recent efforts to get over the perception that the company knows only how to make non-descript computers that resemble other brands’ products. The kind that says “me too”.

Earlier I reviewed the Dell Adamo XPS, which in my view does showcase Dell’s ability to produce coolness at the level of Apple (maybe even better in some cases). In this review, I share my experience with the Dell Adamo Pearl. The Pearl was first introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show.

And like the XPS, we’ve not seen this series in Asia. I visit the Dell showroom in Wanchai whenever I pass by the Wanchai Computer Mall and all the computers there on display are of the conventional black and black design. It’s no wonder Apple products turn people’s heads.

This should change with the Adamo Pearl. Made of brushed aluminum, the 16.4mm thickness coupled with the rather unique design of the bezel makes for an attractive talking piece. There is no latch to lock the screen but the hinge does hold the screen to the rest of the laptop very securely. Opening the computer reveals a 13.4″ WLED HD widescreen display (1366 x 768 resolution) with edge-to-edge glass (reminiscent of the MacBook Pro). Whereas MacBook Pros are molded from a single aluminum block, the Adamo is housed in an etched anodized aluminum chassis.

The surface around the keyboard is clean of any Microsoft or Intel stickers. But if you turn the Pearl on its bottom, you will find the Microsoft and Intel logos etched into a panel. The backlit keyboard reminds me of the now fasionable chicklet keys you will find on the MacBook and Sony Vaio laptops with one exception – each key is slightly scalloped rather than flat. The metal finish offers a luxury feel. Backlighting means you can type in dim light or total darkness.

The model I tested came pre-installed with Microsoft Vista Home Premium – meaning I couldn’t test the multi-touch trackpad capability (really a shame). But I managed to test drive it in other ways, including watching videos, and, of course, doing some work.

The Pearl uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 ultra low voltage (ULV) processor with 3MB Level 2 Cache on board. I was a little disappointed to discover this baby still uses DDR2 memory chips. My experience with ULV equipped laptops hasn’t been very promising but this baby came installed with a fast 128GB Samsung SSD thin uSATA drive. Combined this explains why bootup was still reasonably fast despite the machine using the dreaded Windows VISTA operating system. At least it was the 64-bit version so the OS can take advantage of the 4GB of RAM on board (32-bit OS versions can only handle up to 3GB RAM).

Most laptops have ports on either side of the chassis. With the exception of a single headphone jack, the sides of the Pearl are clean of any such ports. Two USB 2 ports, a eSATA/USB port, a DisplayPort, a power socket, and an Ethernet port can be found at the back of the Pearl. (more…)