Word of Mouth: Recommendations

Looking for a recommendation, where do you go? Right, you’ll ask your friends. So I’m asked quite frequently about this gadget or that service. And ’cause I believe in the web as the No 1 word-of-mouth machine, here’s a number of recommendations, and of things to avoid.

This is all based strictly on my personal experience: I don’t claim it’s objective or anything. But if there’s a service which I found to be outstanding (or hilariously bad), this it where it goes. Think of it as an archive: Google will find it, and so will future customers. Word of mouth, digitally passed on.

(Disclosure: I haven’t been asked to review any of these.)

I strongly recommend:

  • Digital Camera: Casio Exilim I’ve been using the Casio Exilim EX-Z50 (5 mega pixels) for quite a while, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since I got it. Photo quality is great, the optical zoom works reasonably well, and the battery life is incredible. (I’ve used it for weeks with hardly a recharge.)
  • Laptop / Notebook: Sony Vaio VGN-FE21S This one has been with me for about a year. As I’m a quite heavy user, spending a lot of time on my computer, I expect a lot from my laptop, but don’t like wasting my money either. The Vaio FE turned out to be the perfect match: Processing power and quality are very good, the graphics card is powerful, and the built-in camera is surprisingly good as well. And hey, it looks great, too! Two cons, though: The battery is crap, and so is Sony’s customer service, at least in Germany.
  • Online photo sharing: Flickr.com No need to elaborate on this, is there? Flickr has been the best online photo sharing service for several years, and in my eyes still is. There are other great ones, no doubt, but I don’t think any one matches Flickr’s smooth workflow or community. (Yes, that’s still valid despite recent censorship claims in some countries.) Yahoo integration doesn’t help Flickr, really, but it hasn’t hurt it too badly, either. One of the first purely online services I happily ponied up money for, and still do.
  • Online flight tickets (Germany): Traveltopia.de Travelopia is a Berlin-based travel agency. Pretty low-fi, no-frills stuff. Very, shall we say: reduced service. But you get very direct access to the airlines’ ticket databases, which allows you to poke around and look very flexibly for pretty complex connections, too. If you travel a lot but don’t have a travel agency of choice, this might be alright for you. Note that this recommendation is primarily for access to the database.
  • Accomodation abroad: International Houses The International Houses are a (very loosely organized) network of accomodation aimed at international students (or in some cases interns, too). I’ve lived in two (Washington, DC, and Sydney), and it’s had a great impact on my life. The communities are amazing, it’s a great way to meet people, and the idea of young people living together and getting to know people from different cultural and political backgrounds sounds a bit tacky, but it just works. If you move somewhere new, I highly recommend at least a brief stay in one of the international houses. (If you’re a student, or intern, or something, that is.)
  • Book: Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks I’ve been trying to switch to Linux for, well, I can’t even remember: 8 years maybe? However, it just was too much of a hassle, up to now. Ubuntu Linux is the first distribution I’ve seen that looks like it might work out, this time. “Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks” is just what its sub-title promises: “a pain-free, project-based, get-things-done guidebook”. Great stuff!
  • Photo editing software: Fireworks Formerly Macromedia, now Adobe, this software is the Photoshop alternative for the web afficionado. It’s aimed less at print and more at web development, it integrates flawlessly with Dreamweaver (which in turn is the top HTML/website editing software), and it works a charm. It’s quite a bit cheaper, too. Love it.
  • Black longsleeves: Giordano I’m a sucker for non-branded stuff, i.e. no logos. (Think Pattern Recognition, minus the allergy.) And in particular, I’m a sucker for unicolor longsleeved t-shirts, preferably black. Not a problem to buy, one should think, but really good stuff isn’t easy to find, so when I found Giordano and their black longsleeves, I was in heaven. The downside is, they’re a Singaporean company with outlets in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and a few other places, but nowhere to be found in Europe. Shipping overseas turns out to be difficult sometimes as they frequently run out of sizes in their online store. Which is odd, given the size of the company. On the other hand, with the current exchange rates and all, the shirts are incredibly good value.
  • Blogging platform: WordPress This weblog runs on WordPress, which just works a charm for my needs. (Mine is hosted on my own server, but there’s a hosted version available on wordpress.com, too.) Before switching to WordPress, I’ve tried out some others, most of them hosted (twoday.net, blogspot.com, and some more), but none of them really gave me the freedom to tinker I like, combined with the great manuals, how-tos and the community to back it all up, as WordPress does. Two notes, though: WordPress hasn’t got the full-on community features you get at Drupal (which is less a blogging engine and more like a proper CMS), and as far as I know it doesn’t support multi-lingual blogs. But then again: Which engine does?? Two thumbs up for WordPress. (Update: WordPress does support multi-lingual blogs with the Gengo plugin. How awesome is that?)

I’ll try to keep the hands-off list as short as possible, and of course I’ll take down the entries if the issues happen to be solved. So there might be only one or a few entries at a time here.

I’ve recently had very bad experiences with:

  • Sony Vaio customer service (Germany) I’ve been having trouble with my Sony Vaio (see above) battery. And Sony customer service hasn’t been helpful in the least. Out of three times I tried to contact them via online contact form, I’ve only got a single response: Which was a response to my complaint about the lack of response before, and they just gave me another point of contact, which again hasn’t replied in a few days. On the phone it’s easier to get through, but the information was neither helpful nor consistent. Zero out of ten points for Sony Vaio support via the Sony Style Store, Berlin. Two thumbs down.

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