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Updated: April 16, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic rail guide

Comrades, welcome! Today, I want to tell you how to efficiently, smartly and frustration-freely transport goods from your socialist factories to and from the border customs houses, and conduct a smooth operation of profit and supply. I've already talked to you about the major concepts of commerce in my two industry guides, and now, I want to focus on the rail.

As in real life, Workers & Resources does transport thusly - trucks for short haul, trains for long haul, ships for bigass quantities. Makes sense. Trains are super useful as they combine speed and capacity. This means if you want your industries to work well, you must use them. But then, how do you do that well?

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Updated: April 14, 2021 | Category: Linux

DING extension review

Whenever I see anything Next Generation, my immediate association is of course Star Trek TNG. Hence, you ought to read this review in Captain Picard's voice. Should make everything more interesting. Now, the reason why we're here is to talk about Desktop Icons NG, a Gnome extension designed to give you that most basic of functionalities - desktop icons. For a while, there has been a namesake extension, but now it's been deprecated and a new version be born. NG. Engage.

I decided to try using it in this or that flavor of Gnome, to see how it affects or, ideally, improves my Gnome desktop experience. While I normally like to keep my desktops tidy and clean, and only use it for application launchers (primarily in Windows) and occasional reminders slash TODO notes, I am also aware that people do need the desktop space, and for many, it's a convenient place to keep files for quick use. So let's see how this new version improves the experience. Make is so.

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Updated: April 12, 2021 | Category: Windows

How to uninstall programs in Windows 10

In an ideal world, software management should be easy. Install, done. Uninstall, also done. But sometimes, even legitimate programs, due to badly implemented code and other various errors and bugs, refuse to uninstall quickly or cleanly. I recently encountered this issue - probably my first ever I'd say - on a Windows 10 machine, with a printing utility that would simply not uninstall.

The reasons for why I wanted it removed are outlined in my Marvels of modern operating systems article. Indeed, the reasons are not important. What matters is that I could not remove the utility using the standard Add/Remove functionality in Windows Settings, and I needed something more stringent. Luckily, Microsoft provides a dedicated tool for just this kind of issue. Let's review.

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Updated: April 9, 2021 | Category: Linux

MX Linux MX-19.3 patito feo review

More distro testing. And hopefully, today's experience shall be pleasant. To that end, I'm sort of going with a safe bet - MX Linux. Over the years, this small distro has grown and grown, but also matured, becoming a reasonable choice for serious desktoping. Well, for me, MX-18 was the best release, and I wasn't too keen on the latest yesteryear offering, version 19, as it was.

A year has passed, and MX Linux has had three dot revisions, which should be sufficient time to spit and polish any early bugs and bring back the old robust glory of the '17 and '18 crop. I will test the distro on me new scapegoat box, a triple-boot IdeaPad with an AMD processor and Vega graphics. Ought to be interesting. Follow me.

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Updated: April 7, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic industry guide TNG

Welcome to my new and improved industry guide for the glorious Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic game. Now that I've racked about 200 hours worth of playing, in a remarkably short period if time, mind, it is time for a second guide that will show you how to build a flourishing and profitable socialist paradise!

In my first article, I gave you some basic tips and tricks on storage facility, transport, how to lay down an efficient industry zone, with easy access to raw materials and fast throughput of goods. Now, I want to show you an even more advanced way of doing things. Let's get on with some imperialist-capitalist ideas, shall we, comrades?

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Updated: April 2, 2021 | Category: Other software

Internet of Things (IoT)

It's been about 10-15 years since I first heard the term Internet of Things (IoT). Like a wild ninja, it appeared out of nowhere, harbingered by excited management, who then tasked different teams to find problems to solve using this new concept. And I thought, wait a mo! Shouldn't it be the other way around? As in, you have real problems, and then you find the most adequate solution for them? Well, it's been 10-15 years since. And like U2 sings, they still haven't found what they're looking for.

Which is why I wanted to write this article. Ponder a little about the whole concept. What does IoT really do, and how it actually, supposedly helps and improves lives, if at all? So turn your cynicism thrusters to 11, lean back and listen to a dinosaur explain why, sometimes, despite your best enthusiasm, the fact you can do something doesn't mean you should.

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Updated: March 31, 2021 | Category: Linux

Garuda Linux review

After several semi-quiet weeks without any rigorous distro testing, I felt a tiny itch and decided to immerse myself in fresh adventures of the Tux kind, blissfully ignoring the deep scarring of the past and all the broken, dashed dreams. Such an optimist, I am. Recently, I tried an Arch-based system called EndeavourOS. End result, broken system.

New day, new hope. So I decided to try a different Arch derivative, hoping for more luck and whatnot. This one is called Garuda Linux, and it comes with a shiny website, tons of options, every possible desktop environment plus heavy customization. It's meant to tell you, 'tis be Arch, but you should never need know it. Well, let's see what gives. Testing on my new IdeaPad 3, because new plus AMD/Vega hardware, and also because the system is broken and unbootable, and I need something to restore the GRUB menu, so I might as well install a new distro. Commence we start.

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Updated: March 29, 2021 | Category: Linux

Gnome 40 review

In a few weeks, Fedora 34 will be released, and alongside it - you will get to use Gnome 40, the next version of this namesake desktop environments. But wait. Gnome 40 has been officially released only a few short days ago, and you can already try it. Ahead of the distro testing season, I thought it would be a neat idea to grab the software and check what awaits the Tux crowds en masse come mid-April. I downloaded the Fedora 34 beta and booted the system.

Going into a review without any expectations or great hope is a good thing for me. My emotional balance will most likely not be upset too much today. After all, for me, Gnome 3 has never delivered. It's always been sub-optimal, introducing complication and confusion into the classic desktop formula through a strange paradigm of would-be visual minimalism and touch-like inefficiency. More mouse clicks = not fun. I don't expect miracles. But who knows, I might actually be surprised. Remember, beta version, things could change. Now, let's proceed. Commence.

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Updated: March 26, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

GeForce NOW review

As you well know, I'm quite disdainful of most things cloud. My approach to software is simple - its value is inversely proportional to the number of buzzwords used to describe it. Which makes today's experiment, or rather, the conclusions thereof, quite interesting. Cloud gaming. Boom! Headshot. Or?

Then, a friend (a real one) and I decided we wanted to play ArmA 3 together. The only problem was, he's a posh git, and he has a Macbook Pro laptop, no Windows. We considered different options and solutions, one of which is him buying a PC. For the time being, we settled on an experiment - he would try GeForce NOW, and see whether we could use this to make our gaming together a reality. Read on.

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Updated: March 24, 2021 | Category: Hardware

iPhone 11 review

Today, I had a chance not to be a pleb. Hold your breath. I got me hands on an iPhone 11. Now before you faint in shock, hear me out. Dedo be a simple man. Dedo likes audio jacks. Dedo likes DRM-free music. Dedo fancies himself things what be customizable. And so, Dedo uses everything but iPhone, when it comes to smartphones. He also likes to refer to himself in the third person, because, art.

But Dedo is also not ignorant - and he keeps an eye on the likes of iPhone 6S. And over the years, Dedo gets to grudgingly appreciate the support and commitment Apple has for its users, reasons notwithstanding and all that. Locked ecosystem, right, but you also get tight, precise updates for years and years. Nothing to brag about when one looks at the desktop, but definitely top of the line when it comes to mobile devices. So what happens when Dedo tries the yester-yesteryear flagship device? Let's see.

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Updated: March 22, 2021 | Category: Linux

EndeavourOS review

Today, I broke my own rule. I spent a lot of time testing a distro when I really shouldn't have. That distro is EndeavourOS, a spiritual and material successor to Antergos. We're talking an Arch-based system, meant to be simple and friendly - to a point. How much, we shall discover today, maybe, depends on how open our chakras be. So there's that.

My experience with Antergos was polar - the 17.X branch was really cool, including some unique features that I've rarely if ever seen elsewhere. For instance, a super-friendly installer plus seamless proprietary driver setup. But then, the 18.X test was the exact opposite, rift with issues and problems. Then, Antergos ceased to be, and in its place rose EndeavourOS. 'Tis a nerdy distro, cloaked in Xfce by default, but with a bold and optimistic premise. Version tried here, 2021.02.03. Begin.

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Updated: March 19, 2021 | Category: Linux

Linux, Intep graphics & video tearing tutorial

Now, don't be snarky. The title of this article does not imply you fix tearing with Intel graphics, but rather, if you happen to have a computer with Intel graphics, and use Linux, then you may have encountered video tearing, usually horizontal lines across the top third of a video frame. This usually happens in the Gnome, Xfce or MATE desktops, less so in Plasma, regardless of the underlying choice of distribution. Consistency ftw.

Anyway, I've seen this problem many times before - but it seems to have resurfaced with somewhat greater frequently recently. So let's have a little tutorial that will hopefully fix all your woes, or at least, allow you to enjoy smooth, clear video playback. After me.

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Updated: March 15, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic industry guide

As you know, comrades, I found myself a perfect new game - Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic. You know a game is good when it invades your dreams. That, or it means sensory overload. I find myself thinking about the game's industry planning facets all the time, and wait with great anticipation to when I can play again. Real-life tasks and duties occasionally interfere with my schedule, that is.

The one thing that Workers & Resources doesn't do well - it's to teach you how to actually go about its complex mechanisms, and how to build your industry well. I spent the first few hours really annoyed - luckily the fun factor outweighed the nonsense, but I can easily see players dropping out because they don't have the patience to persist with the awkward learning curve. Which is a total shame, as Soviet Republic is brilliant. So let's see if I can help. Here be a little guide to effective, profitable industry. A first of several guides, mind.

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Updated: March 15, 2021 | Category: Linux

Plasma desktop, HD scaling & Konsole lines

I love buying new hardware. Apart from the obvious joy of having a new toy, there's an almost certainty that I'm going to face some fresh problems, related to this or that operating system. Karma definitely did not disappoint when I recently got meself a Lenovo IdeaPad 3, which I loaded with three operating systems, Kubuntu 20.10 included.

In this Plasma-powered Groovy instance, I also set the HD scaling to 1.25, in order to be able to use the system comfortably on the 14-inch FHD screen. If you've followed my adventures with Plasma, specifically the good, the bad and the ugly of desktop scaling on my Slimbook, and then the fine results in Plasma 5.20, then you know things have improved massively, and there should be no issues. And yet there were. Some. Small ones. Weird ones. In Konsole specifically. I noticed white - or black - lines showing in the terminal output, whenever I'd move the cursor up and down. An issue that my sweet OCD demons cannot abide.

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Updated: March 10, 2021 | Category: Other software

Modern operating systems

Sarcasm is an emotion that is hard to convey with verbal cues. The elegant beauty of tongue-in-cheek is lost in the written medium, alas, write we must. Because in the last few weeks, I installed and/or updated several of my systems, Windows and Linux included, and I encountered some lovely regressions, which warm the cockles of my heart.

I wanted to use this opportunity to tell you a little more about this escapade, and why it's significant. You may say, updates, lolz, things break and all that. Only it's not how it's meant to be, and I refuse to succumb to the low-IQ nonsense that is slowly taking over the digital world. Onwards, brave soldiers.

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Updated: March 10, 2021 | Category: Linux

Material Shell

And I think that's ok. Because I am a material nerd and I live in a material ... shell? I guess those should have been the lyrics of the iconic 80s song. But no matter. We will discuss technology regardless. Specifically, I want to talk about Material Shell, a Gnome desktop extension that transforms the default Gnome desktop into a multi-layer tiled interface, intended to be productive and fun. One of the stated goals also says: getting rid of the anarchy of the traditional desktop workflows.

Well, I'm not sure what anarchy we're talking about, but I was intrigued enough to have a go and see what gives. Perhaps Material Shell can indeed improve the Gnome experience, which I find quite restrictive, especially the lack of perma-visible application launcher shortcuts. Now, tiling is normally the domain of window managers, not so much full desktops, and ultra-nerd domain, so there's another angle right there. Begin to test, we shall.

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Updated: March 8, 2021 | Category: Linux

Plasma 5.21 review

Can you hear the drums, Fernando? There's a new Plasma release out there, marked 5.21. Which means test I must and see what the future of this typically phenomenal desktop environment brings us. Now, if you've not followed my KDE adventures lately, then I was kind of pleased with the LTS edition, similarly enthused when it comes to Plasma 5.19, and really happy with 5.20, which I felt should have been the LTS. It was everything I could have hoped, and then some. Well, almost.

This makes today's experiment all the more interesting. There's an almost Ancient Greece drama level of tragic heroism in Linux, so any good or decent release must often follow with a disappointment. But hopefully, it ain't going to be the case today. Begin to explore, we shall.

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Updated: March 5, 2021 | Category: Linux

CentOS 7 relevance in 2021

I have to admit I was sad to read about the upcoming and early demise of CentOS 8. As soon as I saw the announcement, I remembered the two instances of CentOS installed on my test laptop, 7 and 8, sitting side by side in a lovely, complex eight-boot setup. Both are heavily tweaked systems, used in the desktop fashion, offering stability and fun in the home environment that were never intended from this server distro. And as it turns out, CentOS 7 will outlive the newer version by a long mile, or furlong if you will.

So I thought, well, how relevant can CentOS 7 be in the coming years? After all, it's a good few years behind CentOS 8 software wise. And here, I want to take a purely home use approach. I do not want to discuss or debate the actual announcement or the impact this has on the wider IT industry. I want to see if CentOS 7 is still a viable choice for desktop use, should you decide to put it on your PC or laptop. After me.

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Updated: March 3, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

BeamNG.drive review

A few days ago, me wife discovered something remarkable. She realized she had married a simpleton. How did it happen? Simple! I called her over from whatever important thing she had been doing and I asked her to watch a slo-mo replay of me crashing a car in BeamNG.drive, a realistic, soft physics car simulator, with emphasis on aforementioned crumpling of metal and plastic. I was delighted, she was baffled by my repetitive fascination that is encoded in every boy's DNA - watching stuff get destroyed in exquisite detail.

She slapped me on the nape, used expletives that are forbidden in seventeen countries, and went back to doing whatever important thing she had been doing. And I went about writing this lovely review. To wit, I got meself a new game, and it's one that's lurked in me wishlist on Steam for a good few years. Cars, crashes, and then more of that.

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Updated: March 1, 2021 | Category: Linux

Wayland in 2021

In the past few weeks, I read several articles on Wayland. And I thought, what the Internet needs is more debate, not less! So I figured I should add my own opinion into the ether and foster the productive, respectful and totally not emotional discussion around Wayland, the new desktop thingie what shows images on your screen. If you're a techie, you are already flipping, but if you're not, you may be wondering, what? Indeed, for non-techies, Wayland doesn't mean anything. Neither does Xorg.

But the two are display engines, which results ultimately in stuff being painted on your monitor. Xorg is the old technology, a display server, and Wayland is the new display server protocol, and it is meant to replace the former. Except ... this has been going on for more a decade, without end in sight. It boils down to a boss fight of Xorg vs Wayland, and why one is better than the other, and so forth ad infinitum. Now, the real problem is, because this debate is heralded by techies, it boils down to technical details, which is WRONG. The reality is far simpler, far more abstract. Follow me.

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Updated: February 26, 2021 | Category: Office

LibreOffice 7.1 review

They say people get bitterer as they grow older. I say, it's not a function of age, it's a function of experience. Hope is finite, and it gets eroded and chipped away as one goes through life and tastes the fruit of disappointment, time and time again. But hope is the last thing to die.

Which is why my mood cycles between mildly despondent and apocalyptically gloomy as I watch the software world rumble by, doing its thing, and me just wanting to be a happy user. LibreOffice plays a huge part in this equation, because it covers one of the two critical things that forces me to use Windows. Office and gaming, which are simply not as doable in alternative operating systems. Thus, every time there's a new LibreOffice release, I get all hopeful, thinking this will be the day I can say I'm less of a prisoner of my own choices and the tragic state of the software world that surrounds us. And so I tested LibreOffice 7.1.

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Updated: February 24, 2021 | Category: Linux

Remap custom keyboard keys in Linux - tutorial

Modern problems require modern solutions. I've recently got meself a new Linux test laptop, one IdeaPad 3, which I bought (unfortunately, due to market shortages) with the UK keyboard layout instead of the US layout. This means suboptimal physical key placement - even if you do use a different keyboard variant. Namely, the bar and backspace keys and such are placed all wrong, plus the Enter key is too small.

Moreover, this also means, muscle memory and all, you end up typing \ when you actually want to jump to a new line, and this can be quite annoying. So I thought, perhaps I can remap keyboard keys in a small way? But I didn't want to just remap the backspace key (bearing the UK tilde and hash symbols) to a "second" Enter, thus effectively making a larger Enter key, I still wanted to have the bar and backspace keys available. Hence a more complex exercise. Let me show you how you can this somewhat convoluted but super-nice setup.

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Updated: February 22, 2021 | Category: Internet

Firefox Proton preview

Every few years, there's a new visual revamp in Firefox. First, we had the classic look, then Australis, then Quantum, which sort of gave us the old look but in a new guise, and now, Mozilla is aiming for yet another makeover called Proton. The UI refresh seems to be all the rage, except, I don't see why there's a need for one, but hey. Modern problems require modern solutions, or something.

I wanted to get an early glimpse of the change, mostly to see what I ought to expect. As you very well recall from me articles and rants, I found Australis abominable, Quantum okay, and now, I'm not sure why Firefox should be modified yet again. If by any measure we look at competition, say Chrome, what made it popular definitely isn't any series of UI changes, because largely, it hasn't changed much since inception. Not that Firefox should ape Chrome, far from it. But the sense of activity associated with visual polish doesn't necessarily translate into anything meaningful. Whether it does, well, we need to see. Early hands on, let's see.

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Updated: February 19, 2021 | Category: Media

VLC 4.0 preview

I first tried VLC around 2003 or so. It wasn't a good experience. The player's interface showed me a garbled view of the video file I was trying to play. Then, in 2006 or so, I tried it again. Since, it's become my staple media player on every single platform and operating system, including the mobile. The reasons are many: the king of codecs, tons of features, a simple no-frills interface.

Recently, the VLC team has started working on a visual revamp of the UI, which should come live in version 4.0. This marks a significant departure from the established look & feel of the player, which really hasn't seen any big visual updates throughout its history. So I thought, let's have a look at the early work and see what the future has in store for us. Early impressions, don't get too excited, things may rapidly evolve and change and whatnot. Follow me.

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Updated: February 17, 2021 | Category: Linux

Plasma keyboard languages

Welcome to the latest installment in my neverending Plasma desktop games. Today, I want to talk to you about something that is both trivial and complex. The use of other languages on your computer. While I fully believe the only acceptable machine interface language ought to be English, I also understand and appreciate that other people speak and use other languages - after all, I do it myself, four or five languages. You see, I just bragged there.

On a serious note, sometimes one may need to use non-ASCII 127 keyboard layout. And when that need strikes, you want your operating system to give you friendly help. Well, in today's guide, I want to show you the clever way the Plasma desktop handles languages and keyboard layouts. Powerful, elegant, and follow me.

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Updated: February 15, 2021 | Category: Other software

Android, Assistant and headphones

Something rather weird happened to me a few days ago. I was doing a boomer thing - a real phone call on my Motorola One Zoom smartphone, and I decided to free my hands, so I hooked up my headphones via the audio jack. All good, but once the call ended, I noticed a curious little notification on the device. It read: Talk to your Assistant on headphones. Say what.

This wouldn't really be a problem - except - I had configured the Google Assistant to OFF. It was disabled, it shouldn't have prompted. If you've read my Android privacy guide, you know that my first order of the day is turning off pretty much 90% of all the different noisy, cloudy, onliney things. And yet, there it was. Angry, I set about figuring this out. The end result is this guide, because it has a lot of useful detail. Follow me.

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Updated: February 12, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

ArmA 3 Livonia

As you well know, normally I'm against the whole DLC thing. But, I've also come to realize that many companies are doing DLC because otherwise, effectively, they can't really stay afloat and compete in today's gaming market. This is no excuse for the whole peddle-cum-beg fest of locked content and such, but I did ever so slightly mellow my stance. Case in point, ArmA 3. A brilliant game by all (my) standards. Looking back, the entire Operation Flashpoint franchise is the only set of game titles I've played consistently for the last twenty years. Blimey.

Therefore, I decided to spend some dough and buy a couple of game DLC, because I like sitting down with a bunch of friends for a good, hearty shootout. One of these bundles is the Contact campaign slash expansion, which brings in aliens to the ArmA 3 world. For me, more importantly, it offers a new set of weapons and uniforms, plus a new map called Livonia. Very foresty, very Chernarus, very nostalgia. I review.

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Updated: February 10, 2021 | Category: Linux

GeckoLinux Static 152 Plasma review

A large number of Linux distributions were born with the (singular) goal of improving on perceived inadequate defaults in other distributions. Good examples would be Fuduntu unto Fedora, Linux Mint unto Ubuntu, and one might even say Manjaro unto Arch. With openSUSE, it's GeckoLinux. Now, the idea is noble and all, the implementation - not so trivial.

I've tested Gecko a few times in the past, and I found it okay. Not brilliant, not terrible. Somewhere in the middle. A small improvement over what openSUSE does, plus some quirks and problems that stem from the remastering. Even larger teams often struggle with the finer detail of visual consistency, let alone tiny endeavors like Gecko. But hey. The hope is strong in this one, and by that I mean, let's see what gives. We shall conduct this escapade on me new test box, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 with its Ryzen processor and Vega graphics. Should be interesting.

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Updated: February 8, 2021 | Category: Linux

Best distro 2011-2020

OK, let's do it. I'm going to tell you about my top five distros of the past decade. A (very) long view on usability, functional and cultural (so to speak) impact, the value, the quality, the fun I got out of them, how they shaped my usability - and that of others, and a few other interesting tidbits. Nostalgia, forget we must not.

In a way, the article will be similar to my five-year summary (2016-2020), which I did not that long ago. And of course, you're likely to see some of the same names invoked. So if you've read it once, well apologies for that. All right, we know what the deal is for the latter half of this period, but what about the first five years? If you ask me, those were the interesting years - the peak of the PC, the fun desktop period before the mobile era ruined it all. Moving on, ze list.

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Updated: February 5, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

ETS2: Beyond the Baltic Sea

Some games are fun. Some games are extra fun. One of them is Euro Truck Simulator 2. Strap into the cabin of an eighteen-wheeler, and roam free the roads and bahns of the European continent, delivering goods to and fro and making honest buck (euro) in between. So when there's a DLC, offered cheap, Cyber Monday whatnot, then you buy it, despite my stance on DLC in general, and you play some moar. Let's call it an expansion pack, shall we?

The name of the DLC is Beyond the Baltic Sea, and it instantly reminded me of the awesome movie Cannonball! and its iconic opening theme song and sequence. If you've not seen it, you must. Now, the lyrics of the song include a line: from sea to shining sea. Well, almost the same, except it's the Baltic Sea. Indeed, the DLC opens up a bunch of new roads in the countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, parts of western Russia, and the south of Finland. Sounds cool. Ignition on.

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Updated: February 3, 2021 | Category: Linux

Bulk-copy images by size in Linux tutorial

Behold, an interesting problem - or requirement, if you will. You have a folder full of images, say dozens or hundreds. And they are of different sizes, say height of 480 or 600 or 1024 pixels, and width of 200, 320 or 9000 pixels, and you would like to copy only high-quality, large-size images out of this folder into a separate location. Doing this manually can be a chore.

In this article, I'd like to show you a relatively simple command you can run in a terminal window, which will let you filter out your images by size, and then only copy those with an attribute that you like. Now, please be aware that there are dozens of different ways you can accomplish this, and my solution is no way unique or comprehensive (for every possible usecase), but it should do the trick just fine. Let's begin.

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Updated: February 1, 2021 | Category: Linux

Manjaro 20.2 Nibla review

Here's the deal. I got meself a new test laptop - to use side-by-side with the aging G50, plus I'm sort of retiring a couple of really ancient machines from yesterdecade. Anyway, IdeaPad 3 seems like a decent mid-range machine, and in my original triple-boot configuration, things went fairly smoothly, then things kind of soured somewhat, mostly on the Windows side, and then, I decided to expand my Linux-focused testing.

I chose Manjaro 20.2 Nibla as the next choice - after testing 20.1 Mikah not that long ago. The latter proved quite all right, so I thought, let's see what the next point release in this rolling distro can do, especially on some new hardware. Always a worthy check, especially since it's quite different from the Ubuntu family I've tried so far. Well, commence to start.

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Updated: January 29, 2021 | Category: Linux

Linux, PulseAudio, microphone and speakers tutorial

Here's a rather interesting problem I've encountered recently. I bought myself a new laptop, Lenovo IdeaPad 3, primary for testing different Linux distributions. As part of my initial setup, I encountered a weird issue with the audio system in Kubuntu. Namely, I could play sound, but there was no microphone - or I could record sound with the microphone but there would be no output, either through speakers or headphones.

This infuriated me quite a bit - because there was no such issue in Windows 10 in the laptop's temporary triple-boot configuration. So I started a long and seemingly wild chase, trying to resolve this. The hunt led me into dozens of forums, discussing similar and related problems. Most of them seem to focus on newer Lenovo laptop models. I wanted to use this opportunity to write a little tutorial, which will hopefully help you, should you encounter this problem, get simultaneous playback and microphone in your Linux desktop session(s). After me, Tuxers.

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Updated: January 27, 2021 | Category: Linux

Best distro 2016-2020

Last year, for the first time in a decade, I did not write my end-of-year best distro reports. Because there wasn't anything majorly exciting to report about, and also because I found myself quite dejected and tired of testing systems for the sake of testing, going through the same old problems, bugs and regressions. Some of you even emailed me about this distinct absence of written judgment.

Then I thought, well, if 2020 wasn't fun Linux wise, perhaps we can have a longer view? How about the best distro released in the last five years? That sounds meaningful, and should also give us a good dose of reflection and nostalgia. Now, as always, this is subjective, so if you don't see your favorite distro on the list, it's because I'm writing from my perspective. Begin, shall we?

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Updated: January 25, 2021 | Category: Game reviews

Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic

After one reaches a certain age, i.e. becomes a grumpy dinosaur, discovering new games becomes difficult. Somewhere around mid-30s, you settle into a pattern, and don't just randomly go about playing any which title comes your way. Time become precious, patience thin. And so, the likelihood of a Magellan-style discovery is very slim.

Yet, it's happened again. I found a game so brilliant, so captivating that I found myself hunching over the keyboard for more hours than socially acceptable, I'd go to bed anticipating the next morning so I could play again, and in between, I'd dream about the game's dynamics, while its tune plays out its quirky beat through the land of brainy REM. A time jump back into childhood. Ladies and gentlemen, comrades - Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic - an absolute gem of a game!

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Updated: January 22, 2021 | Category: Virtualization

VirtualBox & merge snapshots

One of the cool things about VirtualBox is that it lets you create snapshots of your virtual machines. You work, you save a state, you make changes, and then you conveniently revert back to the saved state. You can branch any way you like, create snapshots with the virtual machines running or stopped, and the functionality provides you with a lot of flexibility - and determinism - as you can consistently re-test known system states over and over.

The uncool thing about snapshots is that they take quite a bit of space. I noticed that one of my virtual machines, with an expected footprint of only about 11 GB was actually taking 46 GB of disk space. And as you can imagine, there were snapshots - a total of seven different saved machine states. This ain't bad, but what if you no longer need the snapshots and want to compact them, i.e. flatten them, i.e. merge everything down and trim down on disk usage? Let's explore this further.

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Updated: January 20, 2021 | Category: Linux

2010 HP laptop & modern Linux distributions

I like round-number milestones. Especially if they allow one to showcase nice things. For example, sometime ago, I managed to revitalize my fairly ancient LG laptop by installing MX Linux on it. This restored a great deal of speed and nimbleness to the system, allowing it to remain modern and relevant for a bit longer.

Now that my HP machine has reached its double-digit age, I thought of upgrading its Linux system. At the moment, the machine dual-boots Windows 7 (indeed, relax) and Kubuntu 20.04. Things work reasonably well. Spec-wise, the 2010 laptop comes with a first-gen i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 7,200rpm hard disk, and Nvidia graphics. Technically, not bad at all, even today. Well, I decided to try some modern distro flavors, to see what gives.

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Updated: January 18, 2021 | Category: Internet

UBlock Origin & custom filters

Several months ago, I wrote a review of UBlock Origin. It's a powerful, nerdy browser extension, available across the wider range of browsers out there, with the sacred purpose of making the Internet palatable for intelligent use. It does so by being a sophisticated adblocker and content blocker.

Since, I've received requests for additional tutorials - and also found myself tackling a few real-world issues with somewhat overzealous content blocking. For example, on Bing images, if I clicked on an image, they would show up for a second, flicker and then disappear. Not consistently - but always with UBlock Origin active. So I used this opportunity to write a little guide on how to create custom filters. Let's have a look.

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Updated: January 15, 2021 | Category: Hardware

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 second review

Several days ago, I bought myself a Lenovo IdeaPad 3 laptop as a new test machine, and promptly configured its default Windows 10 operating system, as well as installed two fresh Linux distributions, creating a cushty triple-boot setup. In my original review, I told you how the process, especially the Windows piece, went quite smoothly and quickly. Well, that got somewhat undone just a week into the adventure.

About a dozen reboots later, I suddenly saw a new icon pop up in my system tray in Windows 10. Something called Meet Now. Styled in the "modern hipster" cartoon design, this thing annoyed me instantly, because there's nothing I hate more than random low-IQ attempts by software vendors to entice me to use things I have zero need or desire for. And then, a whole bunch of other things happened.

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Updated: January 13, 2021 | Category: Office

How to flatten PDF files tutorial

A couple of days ago, I showed you how to redact information in Okular, the default PDF viewer in the Plasma desktop. The action is relatively simple to do, but it doesn't effectively destroy the redacted information, merely obscures it from the viewer.

What I want to show you today is the second part of the puzzle - the flattening of PDF documents. Think an image with multiple layers, and then you save it all in a non-layered format. The information is then flattened into a single layer - the values of all the vertically stacked pixels are calculated - added/subtracted/whatever - and then presented as a single definitive computation of this action. The same with PDF, except it's more complicated, given the PDF structure. Let's do it.

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Updated: January 11, 2021 | Category: Office

Okular & redact PDF files tutorial

The world of PDF files is a vast and complicated one. Viewing files is one thing. Editing them, quite another. Sometimes, you may want to send someone a PDF, but also blank/remove some of the information in the document. This calls for some non-trivial work.

In this article, I'd like to show you how to redact information in PDF documents using the default PDF software available in the KDE/Plasma desktop - Okular. We've talked about this nice little program at length in the past, but now we need to focus on a very specific use case. And please note, this article is not going to be 100% complete. We'll have another tutorial, which also shows how to flatten PDF files.

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Updated: January 8, 2021 | Category: Hardware

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review

So. I decided I wanted (if not quite needed) a new test laptop. My arsenal of Linux-focused test hardware has been getting a bit long in the tooth, with two ancient machines now both 10+ of age, and the everyday laptop marching well into its sixth year. Buying a new mid-range box would give me exposure to some more recent technology, and allow me to fiddle with operating systems on a new level.

Thus, I purchased myself a Lenovo IdeaPad 3, a 14-inch FHD laptop. As it happens, it's not my first Lenovo, far from it, but it is my very first laptop with an AMD processor! This should make the whole endeavor quite interesting. To make things even spicier, it comes with AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics - my second only machine with AMD graphics, after an old T42 a decade back. Double whammy, then. The main idea is to use this laptop for various everyday usage scenarios - Windows and Linux testing. And we ought to do that right away. Indeed, let's dive in and see what gives.

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Updated: January 6, 2021 | Category: Linux

OpenSUSE Leap 15.2 essential post-install tweaks

All right. Before we start, here's a baseline for you. This article will only be of value to you if you have decided to use openSUSE as your desktop system, and if you have successfully installed it on your host. It is important to remember this, otherwise all of the actions below are rather unnecessary. In my recent Leap 15.2 test, I've encountered tons of critical problems with the openSUSE desktop experience, which make it impossible for me to recommend this particular release as a day-to-day system.

That said, I did manage to overcome a whole range of obstacles, and so, for those of you SUSE-inclined, I'd like to show you a list of different tweaks, tips and tricks you may require to transform the default openSUSE system into one with all the extras you need. But of course, we start with the assumption that the system is working for you just fine. Let's see what gives.

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Updated: January 4, 2021 | Category: VirtualBox

VirtualBox & VERR_TOO_BIG error

By and large, my VirtualBox experience is largely pleasant. There are some problems here and there, sometimes serious problems - like the bridged networking issue - but overall, it offers a useful, flexible environment to test operating systems and software quickly, efficiently, smartly. Network isolation, snapshots, Bob's your uncle.

Then, all of a sudden, a few days back I tried to launch a virtual machine, and it wouldn't. The error message contained the following: Failed to load R0 module ... for device 'usb-ehci' (VERR_SYMBOL_VALUE_TOO_BIG). Well, that sounds rather cryptic. Let's troubleshoot.

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Updated: January 1, 2021 | Category: Other software

Should you allow telemetry in software

Companies build software products. They release said software products into the wild. People start using them, and sometimes, there be problems. But how can companies really know that their products are working as expected? User interaction? Unreliable. Some form of automated mechanism that tracks software usage and reports data back? Yes.

Software telemetry is a relatively transparent way of collecting data about human-software interactions, with the noble goal of improving software products. Alas, if only the reality was so cuddly and naive. As it happens, humans quickly realized that data collected in this manner can be used for more than just improvements in the product. And thus, overnight, a noble goal became ignoble. So the question is, should you, as an end user, allow, encourage or accept telemetry in the software you use?

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