Given that we have become totally dependent on his industry’s products, that knowledge may not provide much consolation. But we now know where we stand. And we have Edward Snowden to thank for that.Last month a US court ruled that border agents can search your laptop, or any other electronic device, when you're entering the country. They can take your computer and download its entire contents, or keep it for several days. Customs and Border Patrol has not published any rules regarding this practice, and I and others have written a letter to Congress urging it to investigate and regulate this practice.But the US is not alone. British customs agents search laptops for pornography. And there are reports on the internet of this sort of thing happening at other borders, too. You might not like it, but it's a fact. So how do you protect yourself?
Encrypting your entire hard drive, something you should certainly do for security in case your computer is lost or stolen, won't work here. The border agent is likely to start this whole process with a please type in your password. Of course you can refuse, but the agent can search you further, detain you longer, refuse you entry into the country and otherwise ruin your day.You're going to have to hide your data. Set a portion of your hard drive to be encrypted with a different key - even if you also encrypt your entire hard drive - and keep your sensitive data there. Lots of programs allow you to do this. I use PGP Disk (from pgp.com). TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org) is also good, and free.While customs agents might poke around on your laptop, they're unlikely to find the encrypted partition. (You can make the icon invisible, for some added protection.) And if they download the contents of your hard drive to examine later, you won't care.Be sure to choose a strong encryption password. Details are too complicated for a quick tip, but basically anything easy to remember is easy to guess. (My advice is at tinyurl.com/4f8z4n.) Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect solution. Your computer might have left a copy of the password on the disk somewhere, and (as I also describe at the above link) smart forensic software will find it.So your best defence is to clean up your laptop.
A customs agent can't read what you don't have. You don't need five years' worth of email and client data. You don't need your old love letters and those photos (you know the ones I'm talking about). Delete everything you don't absolutely need. And use a secure file erasure program to do it. While you're at it, delete your browser's cookies, cache and browsing history. It's nobody's business what websites you've visited. And turn your computer off - don't just put it to sleep - before you go through customs; that deletes other things. Think of all this as the last thing to do before you stow your electronic devices for landing. Some companies now give their employees forensically clean laptops for travel, and have them download any sensitive data over a virtual private network once they've entered the country. They send any work back the same way, and delete everything again before crossing the border to go home. This is a good idea if you can do it.If you can't, consider putting your sensitive data on a USB drive or even a camera memory card: even 16GB cards are reasonably priced these days. Encrypt it, of course, because it's easy to lose something that small. Slip it in your pocket, and it's likely to remain unnoticed even if the customs agent pokes through your laptop. If someone does discover it, you can try saying: I don't know what's on there. My boss told me to give it to the head of the New York office. If you've chosen a strong encryption password, you won't care if he confiscates it.Lastly, don't forget your phone and PDA. Customs agents can search those too: emails, your phone book, your calendar. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do here except delete things.I know this all sounds like work, and that it's easier to just ignore everything here and hope you don't get searched. Today, the odds are in your favour. But new forensic tools are making automatic searches easier and easier, and the recent US court ruling is likely to embolden other countries.
It's better to be safe than sorry.You said recently that it is now impossible to buy a laptop with a good quality keyboard. I want to replace my old ThinkPad R50e. The keyboard is excellent – as is common with older ThinkPads – but a website that reviews laptops said that the keyboard on the ThinkPad T400 or T500 was squidgy and poor quality. I want to avoid one of those. When did ThinkPad laptops begin to have poor quality keyboards? Which older ThinkPad should I buy to ensure that I have a good quality keyboard? GordonMobile keyboards have been getting steadily worse for 30 years, if you judge them by the traditional standards established by IBM. For some people, the clicky IBM Model M mechanical keyboard from the 1980s represents a peak. However, keyboards are also a matter of personal preference, or habit. Those of us who grew up with clunky typewriters and clicky mechanical keyboards may think they're the best, but people who have mostly used flat isolated keyboards may well prefer them.The best idea is to try some of the different kinds of keyboard for a week or two to see which you like best. The problem is that if you prefer traditional keyboards, they are increasingly hard to find on laptops. Some gaming laptops have them, such as the MSI GT60 0NC, but they have disappeared from the ultraportable market.There are two main reasons for the decline in keyboard quality. The first is the move towards ultra-slim machines that just don't have room for a traditional keyboard. The second is the decline in laptop prices. Manufacturers no longer have the margin to pay for high quality keyboards. In factory quantities, I expect Chinese laptop keyboards cost less than $2 each.
There are a lot of different types of keyboard design, and there is no easy way to tell which is which. The classic IBM keyboard had a patented buckling spring design, and Ubicomp still makes this type of keyboard. (It got the technology from Lexmark, which was spun out of IBM.) Mass market keyboards usually had dome switches, where the key presses either a metal or plastic (polyurethane) dome to make the contact. These can be quite good, and they are quieter than buckling spring designs. Ubicomp offers dome-switch versions of almost all its IBM keyboards.I suspect your ThinkPad R50e uses a more expensive variant of the dome keyboard with a scissor switch design. In this case, each key is supported by plastic cross-switches. Wikipedia's page on keyboard technology has a diagram. Scissor-switch keyboards have less travel but provide good tactile feedback and feel quite precise.However, most laptops now use membrane keyboards where the keys are just pressure pads. The advantages of membrane keyboards are that they can be made very thin, and they are very cheap to produce. The disadvantages are that they provide little travel and even less tactile feedback. Manufactures get round this by including either a scissor mechanism or a small dome. Generally, I assume keyboards with isolated keys -- often called Chiclet keyboards after Chiclets, the American chewing gum -- have scissors while ones where the keys sit side by side are more likely to be dome-based designs. (But I might be wrong.)A mechanical design should work better than a scissor-switch design, which should work better than an isolated keyboard, assuming they are all made to the highest standards. But they aren’t. A very good isolated keyboard on an Apple or Sony laptop may not be as good as the best IBM ThinkPad keyboards, but it could be better than a scissor-switch keyboard on a cheaper laptop. You can't really tell just by looking at them.
When it comes to ThinkPads, the best laptop keyboards were on ThinkPads assembled in Greenock in Scotland and equivalent IBM factories. I used a Scottish ThinkPad 240X ultraportable for several years and loved the keyboard. My next ThinkPad was an X31 made in China, which felt slightly worse, but there was very little in it. Similar keyboards were used on the T and W ranges, which had better specifications and were up-market of the budget R range.In 2005, IBM sold its PC division to Lenovo, the Chinese company formerly called Legend. It continued to use the IBM name until 2008, after which these machines were rebranded as Lenovo ThinkPads.But, as mentioned, prices were coming down and laptops were getting thinner.
Lenovo therefore developed its own new keyboard, which first appeared in the cheaper ThinkPad Edge range and the ultraportable X100e in 2010. In its review, CNet wrote: With gently curved and slightly concave key surfaces and gentle but solid-clicking key presses, this keyboard surpasses anything seen by Apple or Sony and feels as good as an old-fashioned tapered keyboard. I reviewed the X100e here and was less impressed, saying: By the normal standards of 'isolated keyboards', it feels exceptional, with responsive keys having plenty of travel. By ThinkPad standards (240X, X31/X41/X61), it's relatively poor.Lenovo started to use variants of this keyboard in other new laptops. For example, in 2011, the ThinkPad X220 had the older design, but the following year's X230 -- assembled in the USA -- had the new Precision Keyboard. Again, it got good reviews, though not everybody thought it was an improvement. It wasn't what traditional ThinkPad buyers were used to.
As far as I can tell, all the current ThinkPad models – L Series (budget range), E Series (small business), X Series (ultraportable), T Series (corporates) and W Series (workstations) – now use the new keyboard.You don't say where you read reviews of the ThinkPad T400 and T500, but Notebookreview.com says Lenovo fixed the problem of the thin keyboard flexing too much (also a problem with some cheaper Lenovo laptops) with added bracing over open cavities underneath the keyboard. The review concludes: The keyboard itself is very comfortable to type on with precise action in the keys and positive feedback on each key press. Each key gives off a soft click when pressed, not as loud as the Chicony keyboard on my T60, but louder than the average notebook keyboard. Coming from someone who spends more than 10 hours on their ThinkPad a day I can easily say it is one of the best, if not the best keyboard you can find on a notebook.If you're keen to get another ThinkPad, then you will have to try the new-style keyboard to see how you like it. I'd assume that all the mainstream ThinkPad ranges now use very similar if not identical keyboards, unless somebody out there knows different. If you don't like it, you will need to hunt down one of the older models with an R50e-style keyboard.
The R series was on the market from 2002 to 2008, so your current machine probably dates back to 2004-6 and runs Windows XP. You could go for a ThinkPad T420, T420S or T520 running Windows 7 on an Intel Core iX processor. The T range switched to the new keyboard with the T430, T430S and T530 in June 2012. The W520 would be a more powerful, and probably more expensive, alternative. Again, the W520 switched to the new keyboard in 2012. As mentioned previously, the X220 would be your best ultraportable option, with the X230 sporting the new keyboard.The main drawback with all these x20 laptops is that they will mostly have second-generation Sandy Bridge versions of the Intel Core chips, but these would still be a huge advance on your current Pentium M or possibly worse processor. Otherwise, they should have reasonably competitive specifications.