Dairy Dilemma: The Hype behind Probiotic Yogurt

Yogurt

In this day and age, people are more health-conscious than ever before and marketers are reaping the benefits. Everywhere we look, in supermarkets and on TV, we are bombarded with products that claim to offer multitudes of health benefits. The latest crowd to jump on the bandwagon is the dairy industry with their “probiotic” yogurt, which claims to have “live probiotic cultures” that promote a healthy lifestyle. For decades, doctors and nutritionists have been telling us about the many potential benefits of the L. acidophilus and L. bifidus bacteria cultures found in regular yogurt, so what makes this new “probiotic” yogurt so much better? Well, aside from the fancy word, nada. All yogurt, unless it has been pasteurised after the manufacturing process, contains live bacteria cultures; usually one of the two mentioned before. By labeling otherwise ordinary yogurt as “probiotic”, marketers are able to fool consumers into paying more for the same product. I will concede that certain probiotic brands include both of the L. acidophilus and L. bifidus cultures instead of just one, but you could just as easily buy two brands of “ordinary” yogurt, each with one culture, and alternate between them. This would give you the same healthy effects without paying the not-so-healthy prices of ”probiotic” labels.

So should you fork over the extra cash for yogurt labeled as ”probiotic”?
I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I know I certainly won’t.

Disclaimer: The above article represents the opinion of the author and should not be taken as medical advice.

Olympus WS-320M Digital Voice Recorder Review

WS-320M 1

For those in search of a great digital voice recorder, the task can be very daunting, considering the wide array of features available and the many brands and models to peruse. One recorder that truly deserves to be considered is the Olympus WS-320M; it has all the bells and whistles and then some, all at a fairly reasonable (albeit not cheap) price.

The Good

The WS-320M has a huge array of features; the highlights are as follows:

  • 4 recording modes (long play, standard, high quality and stereo high quality)
  • Up to 277 hours of recording time in LP mode
  • An excellent built-in stereo microphone
  • Backlit LCD
  • The ability to be used as an MP3 or WMA player with “SRS WOW” effect.

These are just a few of the WS-320M’s many great features. To see them all, visit the Olympus website.

After testing the recorder in various settings for a few days, I’ve found that it provides excellent sound quality without using an external microphone. In conference mode, the stereo omni-directional microphone was able to clearly record my voice all the way across a large room, and I was able to easily transfer the recording to my computer in WMA format using the WS-320M’s “USB Direct” connection; with the press of a button, the lower portion of the recorder detaches, turning the recorder into an ordinary USB drive (seen below).

WS-320M 2

Although the built-in speaker and microphone of the WS-320M are both of excellent quality, the recorder has two 3.5 mm jacks, allowing you to attach an external mic or headphones. Furthermore, if the built-in gigabyte of storage space isn’t enough, you can enable a special voice-activation mode which stops recording when it detects silence, and automatically starts recording only when it hears speech resume. This can help cut out those embarassing awkward silences and space-wasting pauses in conversation.

The Bad

Well… Umm… This is kind of odd, but there’s nothing to write about here. The WS-320M (in my own humble opinion) is absolutely perfect; there are no flaws and there is no room for improvement.

Final Verdict

The WS-320M is an incredible voice recorder, with a myriad of great features and no apparent flaws or shortcomings. It is not very often that a product passes my inspection with a perfect grade, but this gadget is truly deserving; Olympus has done an excellent job of designing a product that is both functional and feature-rich.

How to Fix Palm’s Built-In Wi-Fi Module

Palm Wifi
I recently performed a hard reset on my Palm Tungsten C and was very upset to find that my device no longer recognised its own built-in WiFi module. Every time I tried using the WiFi, the Palm would simply hang or give me the error “The card in the SDIO slot is not a PalmOne supported WiFi card”. Of course, the Tungsten C’s built-in WiFi module has nothing to do with SDIO (the SD card slot). I was almost ready to resign to sending my palm in for warranty service and settle with a used replacement bearing different defects. However, I tried one last thing which completely eliminated the problem; I installed the NetChaser WiFi sniffing software available at http://www.bitsnbolts.com/netchaser.php (the trial version is good enough).

The steps I carried out are as follows:
-Run NetChaser from an SD card
-Start a WiFi scan
-You should begin detecting networks if any are in range and broadcasting their SSIDs
-Your WiFi module should now be properly functioning, so you can remove the card and continue using your Palm as you normally would.

Running NetChaser seems to reset Palm’s built-in WiFi module, restoring it from whatever problem it was experiencing. If these steps do not work, you can try going to “Options > Reset System WiFi…” in NetChaser.

Other Palm users have informed me that this fix works on all Palms with integrated WiFi.

Review: Logitech V450 Laser Cordless Mouse for Notebooks – Part 1

V450 Main
(click to enlarge)

I recently received a Logitech V450 Laser Cordless Mouse for Notebooks, and was highly impressed with its design and functionality. Most notebook mice are miniscule and flimsy, making them very uncomfortable to use for any extended period of time. However, the V450 is at the top of its class; it is constructed from a sturdy plastic, features rubberized side grips, is perfectly weighted, and has the clean, smooth click that only the best mice can deliver. However, the most surprising feature of the V450 is its advertised 1 year of battery life on a pair of standard AAs, all while using Logitech’s new laser-tracking system.

By using an infrared laser instead of the standard red LED found in most optical mice, the V450 is able to provide more accurate tracking over a wide variety of surface patterns and textures, except for glass and mirrors. I tested the mouse on a wide variety of optical mouse-killing surfaces, such as gradients, high-contrast lines and glossy finishes; the V450 consistently outperformed a standard optical mouse, providing perfectly smooth movement, compared to the jumping and lagging of the other mouse.

Another feature I like about the V450 is its receiver; the receiver stows away neatly in the rear of the mouse, eliminating the possibility of losing it in your notebook case. When you remove the receiver the mouse powers on; when you replace it, the mouse powers off. You can also turn the mouse off manually using a power button on the bottom. Furthermore, unlike most wireless mice, the V450 uses a 2.4 GHz digital connection compared to the normal 27 MHz, providing a more reliable connection.

Although the V450 is slightly larger than most notebook mice, it is also far more comfortable, making it the “Rolls Royce” of its class. Full-size mice get their comfort by fitting snugly in the palm of the hand; however, notebook mice need to be small, so they can’t be made big enough to properly fill a palm. Because of their decreased size, notebook mice usually need to be controlled with the fingers only, leaving the rest of the hand suspended and cramped. However, the V450 has an incredibly well-engineered design, with side grips for the thumb and ring finger and a raised and contoured rear, allowing the mouse to rest snugly in the pad of the hand right below the fingers. This provides a grip just as comfortable as the most expensive full-size mouse. When storing the mouse in most notebook bags, the slightly larger size doesn’t cause any problems, as it is still far smaller than a normal mouse.

The only downside I’ve found so far with the V450 is that it uses Logitech’s proprietary SetPoint software, requiring you to constantly have another program running in the background in order to enjoy the mouse’s full functionality. An integrated driver would be preferable.

I took several photos of the V450. Due to the large amount of space these photos take up, if you are reading this post from the main page of The Activated Complex, you will have to click the article title or the “continue reading” link to view the pictures. Continue reading

UPDATE: 3 New Planets? or Goodbye, Pluto

Solar System

I previously wrote about the IAU’s draft update to the definition of the term “planet” which, if passed, would solidify Pluto’s long-debated status as a planet and would instroduce three other bodies as planets, Ceres, Charon and 2003 UB313. This draft has not gone through; instead, a different, more restricting definition of “planet” has been passed:

A “planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. (http://www.iau2006.org/mirror/www.iau.org/iau0603/index.html)

This new definition completely disqualifies Pluto from “planethood”, as its orbit intersects with that of Neptune, violating part (c) of the definition. However, Pluto does fall under the newly created class of “dwarf planets”; smaller bodies which do not quite meet the definition of planet, but cannot simply be ignored as “small solar-system bodies”:

A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite. (http://www.iau2006.org/mirror/www.iau.org/iau0603/index.html)

3 New Planets?

Solar System
(click to enlarge)

There is a possibility that the number of planets in our solar system will increase from 9 (or 8, depending on your position) to 12 next week. Will these 3 extra planets materialize from an extraordinary cosmic event, causing trillions of particles of space dust to rush together, pulling each other in towards three separate points of increasing gravitational force? Has a nearby supernova caused these planets to be released from their former star’s gravitational pull, only to be sent into orbit around our sun? No. These 3 planets will be created by a force far simpler than we can imagine, yet so powerful that it is virtually impossible for any one of us to escape its grasp. This force is none other than the media.

Next week, the International Astronomical Union will gather to vote on a proposed change in the definition of the term “planet”. The current definition states that a planet is a large accelerated mass, which is not a star or a moon, in orbit around a star. This very old definition leaves plenty of room for ambiguity, as the only thing separating non-planet bodies orbiting around stars, like asteroids, from planets is their relatively low mass. However, this leaves room for plenty of argument, especially in the case of Pluto. Because of Pluto’s very small size, many scientists have argued that it does not meet the criteria of “planethood”, and that it should be considered a non-planetary body like many others of similar size recently discovered. However, to eliminate any ambiguity in this matter, a new criterion has been proposed; in order to be considered a planet, a space body must not only meet the old definition, but also possess a certain degree of roundness caused by its own gravitational force. If this new definition is approved by the IAU, not only will Pluto be indisputably declared a planet, but three other bodies will join its ranks; Ceres, Charon and 2003 UB313. Ceres, previously considered to be the largest asteroid, will now be defined as the fifth planet from the sun, making it the outermost rocky planet, situated between Mars and Jupiter. Charon, currently considered to be a moon of Pluto will alternate between tenth and eleventh place, as Charon is not a normal moon; Pluto and Charon orbit each other, rather than Charon only orbiting Pluto. When Charon is on one side of Pluto, it will have the tenth position while Pluto has the eleventh, and vice versa. 2003 UB313, a recently discovered body slightly larger than Pluto, will take twelfth place as the outermost planet.

Right now, you may be thinking “I’ve been hearing all week in the news that there were going to be three new planets! These aren’t new at all, we’ve known about them for a long time!”. The media, in their never-ending quest to boost their audiences, have yet again spun a story full of hype, blowing it way out of proportion. They draw in the innocent masses, thrilled by the idea of a scientific breakthrough, enchanting them with promises of 3 new planets, withholding the truth for as long as possible, right until the very end of their story. Now that you’ve read this, you know the truth; you’ve escaped the powerful force of the media… at least for now. But how can you avoid being tricked again? Well, you can do what I do; check with the direct authority on the subject. Such sources include IUPAC for chemistry, IUPAP for physics, IAU for astronomy and IUBMB for biochemistry and molecular biology. You can also check your local library for copies of reputable scientific journals such as Science and Nature, but not magazines.

To see a map of the way the planets would be ordered if the new definition is passed next week, you can click the picture at the beginning of this post.

UPDATE: The outcome of the IAU’s meeting was highly unexpected. I have written a follow-up to this article.

(Image source: http://www.newscientistspace.com/data/images/ns/cms/dn9761/dn9761-2_800.jpg)

Works consulted:
The IAU draft definition of “planet” and “plutons”
Three new planets may join solar system

Lenovo Thinkpad X60s Review – Part 2

X60s

It’s been a few weeks since I first wrote about my plans to purchase a Lenovo Thinkpad X60s 17025NU, but I have finally ordered it. I placed the order over the phone directly with Lenovo Canada, and the salesperson gave me a very reasonable price for the laptop and several accessories. Lenovo sent an email to confirm the order, so I did just that. However, a few days later, another salesperson sent a different email with the wrong order number, the wrong first name, a misspelled last name, and completely different prices (much higher). Conveniently enough, this email was sent on a Friday afternoon right before closing time at Lenovo, so I had to spend the entire weekend worrying about the status of my original order. Monday came and, before I could call Lenovo, Lenovo called me; it was the salesperson who sent the second email. Apparently, I had called Lenovo previously (before I placed my order with salesperson #1) looking for salesperson #1, with whom I had previously spoken. However, s.p. (salesperson) #1 was on vacation, so s.p. #2 took my call. S.p. #2 proceeded to provide me with some prices on various accessories. When s.p. #1 returned, I placed my order with her, as she was the original salesperson I had spoken with and because the prices she gave were much lower than those of s.p. #2. Moving back to the original topic of the mysterious email, apparently, s.p. #2 somehow thought that by asking for a price quote, I was actually placing an order. This is why s.p. #2 claims to have sent the second email. I doubt this is true, as the second email was sent more than a week after I had made the call in question, and the information in it was all wrong. I suspect that s.p. #2 saw I had placed my order for a low price with s.p. #1, and proceeded to try stealing s.p. #1′s commission while tricking me into paying a higher price. However, I could be wrong and s.p. #2 could be telling the truth. I only hope that my original order has not been changed or cancelled.

The X60s is scheduled to arrive sometime around the first week of September. Hopefully, nothing will arrive damaged or defective. I’ll write part 3 of this series after I’ve received the order.

UPDATE: Logitech MX5000 Bluetooth Desktop Review

In my recent review of the Logitech MX5000 Bluetooth Laser Desktop, I revealed many of the product’s shortcomings. Today, after only 8 months of use, the included MX1000 Bluetooth Laser Mouse has started to fail. Like most mice, the MX1000 has a scroll wheel which can be depressed, acting as a third programmable button. Today, while attempting to use this button to close tabs in Firefox, I noticed that it required an unusual amount of force to register a press. Over the course of the day, the problem became worse and worse and the button now only works intermittently. No big deal; I kept my receipt for the warranty… which has conveniently expired. Hopefully no other components of the MX5000 desktop are of such poor quality, otherwise I’ll be the proud seething owner of a $230 paperweight by the end of the year.

Correction: My warranty isn’t expired. I’ll be sending the product in for replacement.

8.12.2006: The button has somehow started to work normally again.

Logitech MX5000 (MX 5000) Bluetooth Desktop Review

Logitech MX5000

I have been using the Logitech MX5000 Bluetooth Laser Desktop for half a year, and I have made several notes about its performance; some good and some bad.

The Good
The MX5000 desktop comes with the Logitech MX1000 laser mouse. This mouse is incredibly comfortable to use with convenient internet back/forward buttons along with a scroll wheel that tilts for horizontal control. The mouse uses an invisible infrared laser, providing very responsive and accurate motion. The MX5000 keyboard features a simple monochromatic LCD display, displaying the ambient temperature, the date and time, the user’s name, and email/IM alerts. The display can also be used to control multimedia and browse through playlists. The keys of the keyboard are very comfortable with an appropriate amount of resistance, causing the keys to stop not with the jarring *CLACK* of most keyboards, but with a much softer sound and feel. Along with media controls and programmable keys, the keyboard has a really useful “Smart Calculator” mode; a simple press of a button turns the keyboard into a calculator. The user simply inputs any operation and the results will display on the built-in LCD. When the user exits the calculator mode, the resulting number will be copied to the Windows clipboard to be pasted into a spreadsheet or any other document.

The Bad
In order for the MX5000′s fancy features to work properly, you need to install Logitech’s proprietary drivers and software. This software is extremely bulky and buggy, using an unreasonable amount of system resources and causing errors and crashes with common programs such as Microsoft Outlook and MSN Messenger. Even worse than these software problems are the MX5000′s connectivity problems. The mouse and keyboard frequently lose their Bluetooth connection to the computer and re-establishing this connection can take upwards of ten minutes of disconnecting, connecting and finally rebooting. In addition to dropped connections, the mouse often lags and floats; when the mouse is moved, the resulting motion on-screen is sometimes slow and awkward. These bugs are pretty bad, but a high-end Logitech product couldn’t possibly have more bugs than this, could it? Well, to top off the bug sundae with a cherry and some whipped cream, the MX5000 keyboard also has a problem with repeating keys; when using the keyboard after a period of inactivity of a few minutes, the first key pressed will usually send its signal for too long, causing the character to be entered twice. Pressing backspace to get rid of an extra character every so often might not be so bad, but the experience I had broke the camel’s back, infected it with a terrible disease, gave that disease to the flies hanging around the carcass, and spread the disease with the flies to a nearby village, wiping out an entire population. One day I sat down to check my email. After reading my first message, I pressed “Delete” to send it to the Deleted Items folder. However, the delete button didn’t just send its signal once, nor did it send it twice or thrice; the delete button kept sending its signal non-stop until all of the over 300 emails I had been saving in my inbox over the past few years were irreversibly mixed in with the thousands of deleted junk emails in my Deleted Items folder. Wonderful. Just wonderful… Anything else? Well, I suppose it won’t seem that bad anymore, but the battery in the mouse can’t be replaced, so you’ll need a spare mouse for when the battery needs recharging.

Final Verdict
Despite the Logitech MX5000 Bluetooth Laser Desktop’s many excellent and innovative features, its enormous collection of major bugs makes it a very frustrating product to use. This product is probably not worth purchasing unless Logitech can find a way to remedy its flaws.

Lenovo Thinkpad X60s Review – Part 1

X60s
I am planning to purchase a Lenovo Thinkpad X60s 17025NU within the next month to use for word-processing, web browsing, email and other work-related tasks. The main highlight of this laptop is its incredible portability; it weighs just under 4 pounds with an 8-cell battery, delivering a whopping 7-8 hours of battery life. To top it off, this particular model has Intel’s latest 1.66 GHz L2400 Core Duo power-saving processor with 1 GB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive. Although the X60s lacks any built-in optical drive and features mediocre integrated graphics, this is more than made up for by its huge array of features, including an incredibly comfortable full-size keyboard, a fingerprint scanner, Bluetooth, 802.11 a/b/g wireless, gigabit Ethernet, integrated WWAN EVDO antenna, SD card reader, 3 USB ports, firewire, VGA out, headphone and microphone jacks, infrared (IrDA) and PCMCIA slot. The X60s, like all Thinkpads, features the ThinkVantage button, which accesses a suite of networking and diagnostic tools, ideal for switching between multiple networks or repairing any problems.

When making my decision on which laptop to purchase, I considered four factors: portability, performance, comfort during extended periods of word-processing and battery life. I wanted an ultra-portable laptop with a great keyboard; two things that rarely go together. Ultraportables like the Toshiba Libretto and the Fujitsu Lifebook have miniscule keyboards and eye-straining screens, making them terrible for word-processing. Only two ultraportables had full size keyboards, excellent battery life and the performance of the new Intel Core Duo processors; the X60s and the Sony VAIO SZ series. The SZ series is almost as light as the X60s, but trumps it with a built-in super-multi optical drive, built-in webcam and the ability to switch between high-power NVIDIA graphics and battery-saving integrated graphics. The SZ does, however, have a slightly shorter battery life and, after comparing it in a store to the Thinkpad, has a very flimsy, cheap-feeling keyboard. As my main reason for purchasing a laptop was for long periods of word-processing, I chose the X60′s battery life and keyboard over the SZ’s optical drive, webcam and graphics. Another motivator for this decision was Sony’s notorious reputation for terrible customer support.

I’ll post more about the x60s as the purchase date approaches. In the meantime, you can check out the following reviews:
CNet
PC Magazine
StrikeMobile.com
IT Reviews
Blaptops