Friday, April 6, 2012

CSU Futurevisions Agenda

CSU's biennial Futurevisions conference is on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University. They have a number of interesting speakers and sessions this year, including David Pogue of the New York Times, and David Ferrucci of IBM's "Watson" (Jeopardy! champion).

Since I couldn't find a schedule anywhere online, here it is, at least as of March 28.

Note: There is no charge for attending.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lenovo Y470p Initial Impressions

I made some updates on 3/19. They're all in this color.

After looking around for several months for a laptop to replace my ailing Vaio, I finally ordered a Lenovo Y470p. I almost got an HP Envy 14, but just when I was about to pull the switch, HP split the Envy 14 into two machines: One without the fairly heavy (for a laptop) gaming graphics I wanted, and one with a big red “b” for Beats Audio on the back. Yuck.

Then the Y470p was announced, and a good “weekly deal” was available, so here I am.

As I write this, it’s 5 days since the box arrived. That’s about a month earlier than the shipping date Lenovo quoted in my order, and a couple of weeks earlier than the shipping date they claimed when I was going through ordering, so, well, whatever.

I’m still settling in on this machine, installing programs and setting options the way I like them, so what I write here is what I can tell so far. Some things are excellent, others are marginal, but overall I think I’m going to be happy. That wasn’t always the case over the last few days. The trackpad nearly drove me nuts. See below.

I should mention that in addition to getting on this hardware, I’m also moving from Windows Vista to Windows 7. As a result, some of my impressions may be colored by the fact that Vista was an abomination that I spent several years hating. I think I spent at least half of those years waiting for right-click to show a menu. L

Build Quality

Overall, it’s fairly solid. It’s not a Thinkpad, but I don’t need one of those any more. (I used them for many years before retiring.) Doesn’t flex, lid opening and closing smooth, everything fits with everything else. Looks pretty good, too.

The wide space below the keyboard lets you rest your whole wrist there, which feels good.

Above the keyboard and towards the right side are some small indentations with symbols in them that you need a magnifying glass to read. Well, I do, anyway, even with reading glasses. I haven’t gotten out a magnifying glass, so I still have no clue what those symbols are.

Symbol-blindness or no, it turns out these are swipe-over buttons. You can press them until your finger comes off and nothing will happen; but a quick, easy swipe makes them react cleanly. Kind of neat. (Pressing does work. Don't know why it didn't for me back then. I like the swipe, though.) One of these swipeons is mute on/off; useful. Two near that one are volume up/down, not so useful in my opinion. There’s one for switching some kind of display mode, and I haven’t the foggiest idea what it does.

The rightmost swipeon, though, is a total winner: Thermal control. You could that read as “fan control.” There are four settings, three of which make sense to me: standard; super-silent; and dedusting. Dedusting! What a wonderful idea! Probably blows the heck out of it (I’ve not tried it yet). If my Vaio had that, it’s possible I’d still be using it. Sucker clogged up, and getting in to clear its throat would have been a 15-step process that disemboweled the machine. Didn’t do it.


Awesome. The Radeon HD 7690M does a fine job. I haven’t put Skyrim on it yet – I’m going to – but I have run Oblivion, and for the first time ever, I can run in “ultra high quality” mode with every possible feature wide open – distant everything, self-shadows on grass, etc. – without the frame rate suffering at all when in deep grassy areas. That was always a huge problem for me on every previous system I’ve had. (OK, I’m an Elder Scrolls fan.)

Nothing more to say here. Just awesome. I’m happy.

(Skyrim is cool, too, also with high quality. Haven't tried ultra-high.)

The LCD screen? It’s a screen. Could have a few more pixels, but I’m good with it. Nothing special. Bright enough. Works.


Seriously, this box has the best audio I’ve ever heard come out of a laptop. That’s not to say it’s an audiophile’s wet dream, but rather that I’m actually willing to listen to it. Not tinny at all; it actually has some bass to it – not as if you had a subwoofer, but actually listen-able. This puts it above and beyond any laptop I’ve heard before. I only need to use headphones to avoid bugging others now, not to actually hear something decent. Little JBL speakers, about 1” x 3” each, probably have something to do with it, but I’m not a worshipper of brand names.

If you get one, do play around with the Realtek audio effects. (You get there from “Realtek” in the control panel. God forbid they should name it something like “audio” that you could recognize.) Those settings make a big difference in what you hear, and clearly what you like will depend on your taste. I kind of like the “mountain” setting, myself.


The trackpad is clearly the weakest piece of this system. I was almost ready to re-box it and ship the thing back until I spent some serious time messing around with the Synaptics trackpad settings.

With the factory settings, I couldn’t even navigate reliably to checkboxes. The cursor would bounce all over the place, randomly try to turn on zooming in or out, or go into some kind of unusable scrolling on areas that weren’t scroll-able. Finally I got it sorted out, and in the end it’s perfectly usable.

The necessary settings are somewhat hidden. The path: Control Panel à mouse à Synaptics tab, the tab with the bright red funky blotch on it à easy-to-miss settings button just below the list of devices, on the right side.

When you click on “settings,” you bring up a new window (it’s too small and can’t be resized) with a deeply nested navigation pane on the left that contains all sorts of things you never knew existed: tap sensitivity, palm check, momentum, muti-finger gestures, etc. I knew to look for this only because such a thing existed in my prior Thinkpads.

The very first thing you should do is completely turn off all multi-finger gestures. They don’t work. None of them do. They screw up the trackpad. It was their being triggered at random that caused most of my problems. So you can’t use two-finger scrolling. Dang. That one I wanted.

Three things that do work well for me are right-edge mousewheel-like scrolling, chiral scrolling, and momentum.

Mousewheel-like scrolling by swiping down the right edge of the touchpad can be made to work well. This is a first for me; on no prior laptop of mine has it worked worth spit. To make it work, you have to do two things: First, set the mousewheel increment (back in the regular mouse settings, not the Synaptics settings) to 1. Higher makes it move too fast for me (see chiral scrolling below for long-distance scrolling). Second, put your finger down “fat” with the middle of the finger on the red dotted line on right side of the touchpad. Staying to the right of that line doesn’t seem to work. That seems to reliably cue in scrolling, and scroll, without danger of being accidentally triggered.

Chiral scrolling: When you swipe down (say) to scroll, you may run out of room on the trackpad before you’ve scrolled as much as you want. Slide your finger a little to the center, then around, up, and down again, repeatedly making little circles. This keeps the scrolling going. The faster your circle with your finger, the faster the scroll. Reverse the circling, and you scroll back. As I said, this works well.

Momentum: This is cool. Have a long way to move the cursor? Flick your finger in the right direction, raising your finger off the trackpad at the end of the flick, and the cursor sails across the screen, like you whacked a hockey puck. It stops when you touch the trackpad again, so you can aim at something and stop when it gets near. Play around with the “glide distance” in the Synaptics options until you get what you like in the distance moved per flick.

I hope you stuck with me up to here, because I’m about to mention something the settings don’t fix, as far as I can tell. It’s a very bad thing for gaming with the trackpad: It doesn’t work at all when you’re simultaneously pressing a key on the keyboard. This is a total bummer for mouse-look WASD navigation in games: When you’re holding down W to move forward, you can’t change direction! You have to go one way, stop, turn, go another way, etc. This makes going around any corner a chore. If there’s a “keep walking” key that you press just once, you can then use the trackpad to change direction while moving; but that’s it. It’s a trackpad problem, since the same game that exhibited this for me (Oblivion), doesn’t have the problem when an actual mouse is used. (I had to dig an old mouse out of the bottom of a junk drawer and replace the batteries to try that. Grumble mutter grumble.)

To end on a positive note: Thanks, perhaps, to the palm check logic, the cursor doesn’t go flailing all over the screen randomly selecting who knows  what while I’m typing. It just stays put. Hallelujah, and Praise the Lord. That was a major failing of my previous Sony Vaio system (never getting one of those again).

Hm. I wonder if that good thing is related to the “can’t use trackpad while holding down W” problem. Darn, I bet it is.

(Verified, soon after posting, in fact; see the comments. If you set the "palm check" to zero - leftmost setting - effectively turning it off, then you can use the trackpad while pressing keys. Aaaand the cursor goes flanging all over the screen when you're typing. :-( So it's one or the other. And I've not found a convenient way to switch between them. Oh, well, mouse works well with games.)


The keyboard really feels rather good. There’s just enough travel, and the keytops are nicely rounded down and indented. I can already tell just writing this review that this keyboard has really restored the accuracy and fluidity of my typing. I hadn’t realized how much I was suffering with the Vaio. Good job.

Not quite so good a job on its noises, though. A little noise is OK; the issue is what the noise sounds like. It sounds, well, cheap. Like each key is a bit too small for its hole, and slops around in it. After a bit of use I’ve decided I don’t mind it, though. On this one, I’m nitpicking a very small nit.

I almost forgot one major disappointment: No illuminated keyboard. Dang, I really wanted that, and thought this system came with one, but it doesn’t have it. Going back to the specs, I don’t seem to find it, so I guess I was wrong at order time. Very sad.


The Y470, and in fact the entire Lenovo Y series, has no fingerprint reader.

Instead, you are supposed to register your face with something called “Veriface.” Then, at the sign-in screen, Veriface uses the system camera to stare at your ugly mug, decide it’s you, and let you in.

This could conceivably be cool, at least to demonstrate to friends. However, I don’t know, since it doesn’t work. I can’t register my face. Maybe it looked at me and broke.

I have seen a pile of posts in the Lenovo support forums about this, though. Apparently the inability to register is a common problem, and the recommended action is to uninstall Veriface and reinstall. I haven’t done that yet; want to get a few more setup items done first. If it really works, I’ll modify this post accordingly.

(Doesn't work. Got rid of it.)

Lenovo USB File Transfer Cable

It’s recommended when you order this system, so I ordered it, having used one before and gotten great bandwidth for moving my files to a new system. Royal PITA. Windows “Easy Transfer” would not recognize it. I think the problem may be the “pc2pc” crapware Lenovo loaded on: That offers to run when you plug the cable in, and does work – but as far as I can tell, there is no documentation of it anywhere, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it navigate to anything off the older system’s desktop. So I used my home network. 144Mb/s Wifi, 46.8 GB of data, 6 hours. The “Easy Transfer” stuff did manage that, sucking everything over, restarting the connection a few times, but never dying. My hat’s off to it. That was the simplest file transfer I’ve ever done, albeit rather nerve-wracking waiting those 6 hours.

I feel I wasted my money on that cable. I guess YMMV, but for me it was a solid failure.

Apropos of nothing in particular, just to mention it, I’d say Lenovo put only a moderate amount of bloatware on the system. They really seem to love their own “ooVoo” IM system, which I never heard of. (Does anybody actually use IM anymore?) I’ll uninstall stupid ooVoo soon. The four or five other things that showed up on first boot were easily avoidable and deletable.

Still haven’t found whatever it is that occasionally goes back to Lenovo and looks for updates to drivers and the like. Have to get that going.

(Still haven't found it.)

Also: Don't freak out if your "Y470p" arrives with the badgeing of just a "Y470." Mine just says Y470, even on the SN sticker on the bottom. I was a bit worried initially myself, but it's OK. It has all the "p" gear, including the AMD Radeon graphics. Just Lenovo not getting its act together.

Battery life: Quite decent. Many people are seeing about 5 hours on the standard battery. That is what's reported on this thread in NotebookReview forums, which you should check out if you're interested in the Y470p/Y470. My battery life seems consistent with that. Don't expect that much for heavy gaming on battery power, though.

Also, the system stays cool according to my thighs (plugged in), and the fan noise is just barely perceptible, even when gaming.


If you want a laptop that is good at graphics-intensive games and lets you type fluidly, you could do a whole lot worse than a Y470. That’s what I wanted, and I’m becoming quite happy with it, so far. But they should take the jerk who specified the factory trackpad settings out behind the barn and give him a whuppin’. Problem is, there probably is no such person; random bits just got set.

Oh, yes, also, it’s also got eight – count ‘em, eight! – processors in its i7 CPU chip. I’ll be very interested to see if anything I run on this ever uses more than three of them at once. I have seen three running when restarting Chrome with about six open tabs. (Chrome puts each tab in a separate process.) Each was at about 3% utilization. Maybe Skyrim will crank them up. Maybe I’ll get my act together and write some parallel Haskell. (Hah. Already took a stab at that. No joy yet.) We shall see.

(Turns out those eight are actually four CPUs with two threads each, which is not the same thing as far as performance goes. The usual rule of thumb is that a CPU with two threads has the performance of about 1.2 processors, so performance-wise it's 4.8 procs. The "eight" above is what Windows Task Manager says. Sorry about that. Oh, and by the way, Skyrim uses exactly 1 thread. They could have done better than that!)