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Updated: May 30, 2020 | Category: Game reviews

ArmA 3 DRO: Alamo

After a long day of IT stuff, one must rest. Body and mind. Mostly mind. All that passive-aggressive work needs to be turned into aggressive fun. And what better thing to de-stress than a two-hour multiplayer session in the most realistic war simulation game of all time - ArmA 3? Indeed.

Typically, I like to play Dynamic Recon Ops (DRO) missions on any one of the available maps in ArmA 3, expansions and mods inclusive, with some family and friends. You end up in a team of four to eight human/AI combatants, going on a range of objectives, including sabotage, hostage rescue, search and destroy, and more. Now and then, I like to report back on these endeavors, like say my Chernarus Winter mission. Recently, I enjoyed a really cool session playing an against-all-odds type of scenario, but without the accompanying Phil Collins musics, and so here we go again on our own.

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Updated: May 29, 2020 | Category: Linux

Fedora 32 Workstation Gnome review

The spring season continues. We shall now embark on a Fedora journey. If you followed my tirades over the past few years, you will probably have noticed that I did manage to find some semblance of reasonable productivity with Fedora, albeit after heavy modifications and tweaking. You can of course sample of those experiences by reading my reviews - Fedora 29, Fedora 30 and finally the yesteryear Fedora 31 article.

There's much more, but I'm sure, if you want, you'll find the material. Anyway, on my eight-boot test laptop, I've had both versions 30 and 31 installed, and typically, I'd go for an in-vivo upgrade. But I wanted to start from scratch, and get a sense of how the system behaves au naturel, without any trace of my years-long polish and trim. So here we go.

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Updated: May 27, 2020 | Category: Other software

GIMP & G'MIC setup on Windows

For those of you feeling confused by the namedropping exercise in the title, things are simpler than they read. GIMP is a pretty reasonable, feature-rich image manipulation program (hence its recursive name). It comes with a range of image filters, allowing you to make changes to your photos and pictures, like blur, glow, noise, and many others. But sometimes, even this nice repertoire isn't enough.

To that end, you want something like G'MIC, an image processing framework that comes with loads of extra tools that you can use. For example, you can do color, light and pattern changes, add artistic touches, repair inconsistencies in pictures, render shapes, and then some. The full list of G'MIC features is way too long, so I must resort to: trust me, I'm an engineer. Actually, I'm not, I'm a physicist, so my word is doubly good here. Anyway, in Linux, setting up G'MIC is trivial. In Windows, less so. That's why we're here.

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Updated: May 25, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma desktop - add and pin custom applications

A while back, I showed you a couple of nice tricks: how to add icons for multiple versions of the same program onto the icons-only task manager in the Plasma desktop environment, and along the same lines, we also learned how to add icons for WINE programs. Now, we shall unveil another little icons trick. Specifically, how to add and pin custom applications onto the Plasma system (application) menu.

If you install software using the package manager, whichever way, then you will end up also having that software properly associated with the system, which means it will show up in the application menu. But what happens if you have custom applications, say a standalone bundle? This could be a separate version of Firefox or LibreOffice perhaps, or something similar. Let's see how we can integrate those like champs. After me.

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Updated: May 23, 2020 | Category: Office

OnlyOffice Desktop Editors 5.5.1

Several months ago, I wrote my review of OnlyOffice Desktop Editors, a free, cross-platform office suite. This turned out to be a nice, fresh product, with lots of goodies, solid Microsoft Office compatibility, plus a range of unique and useful points like plugins, encryption and such. In between the costly but powerful Microsoft solution and the somewhat tenacious but occasionally erratic LibreOffice, this comes as a nice, flexible compromise, a sort of best of both worlds.

Recently, I got an email from the company, asking me, pretty please, to do another review of the product, and I decided to go for it. There's a new version of the office suite, some improvements, some bug fixes, so maybe this could be the version that makes it into my production setup. Maybe. Let's examine.

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Updated: May 20, 2020 | Category: Linux

Ubuntu MATE 20.04 Focal Fossa

It is time to embark on another distro testing adventure. This spring season, I've tested Kubuntu and then Xubuntu of the Focal flavor, and they gave me distinctly different results, which always worries and saddens me, because consistency is what empires are built upon. And that makes today's test even more important. We shall sample from the MATE's corner now.

Overall, Ubuntu MATE has behaved okay in the past few years. It has an established identity, it's getting friendlier by the release, and it comes with some rather unique features, a refreshing departure from the rubberstamp slog that is the Linux desktop nowadays. But then, 'tis LTS now, so everything must be super-green. And given the distros select colors, it's only expected. Let's begin.

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Updated: May 18, 2020 | Category: Car reviews

Eurotrip - BMW X3 in France and Germany

Travel we must. In a nice car, to be more precise. 'Tis a Eurotrip! This time, the adventure takes us to crazy, wondrous places – France and Germany. Some 1,200 kilometers of roads, from urban alleys to unrestricted highways in the land of the free (cars). And since it's THE autobahn we're talking about it, then we need a vehicle with a bit of oomph, plus German heritage. You got the answer right: BMW X3.

I've already reviewed this car several years ago, but it was in the xDrive guise, with the mighty twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six diesel, similar to the BMW 330d experience. Now though, we will have to make do with only a two-liter engine. But it ought to be interesting. So begin, let's.

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Updated: May 17, 2020 | Category: Hardware

Moto G4 & black status bar icons

Here's a weird little problem what I encountered. As you probably (don't) recall, I have a Moto G4 phone in me arsenal of smart thingies. Everything was cushty for a long while, without any issues or whatnot. One merry afternoon, this changed.

I noticed the status bar icons - the top of the home screen - had suddenly turned black. This rendered them almost invisible, and indeed, by default, they are white. I also noticed the problem only affected the home screen, as the correct color transition from white to black and vice versa was happening across the rest of the system. All right. Weird problems require weird solutions.

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Updated: May 15, 2020 | Category: Internet

Firefox add-on - Forget me not review

Overall, most operating systems need little cleanup supervision. Similarly, most applications work fine without any manual intervention. The exception are browsers, which can accumulate huge amounts of transient data in very short periods of time. Browse for a week, and at the end of it, you will have hoarded up hundreds of MB of cached files plus a few hundred cookies. On its own, not a bit problem, but.

Things would be perfect if there were no bugs. But I did encounter a weird Firefox & cookies issue a while back. Resolved by cleaning cookies. If you want to image your system, you don't really want all the cached browser data to go into the archive. Hence, cleanup. Indeed, browsers give you the option to delete data - by type and time. But what no browser really offers is a permanent, selective keep list for certain items, like say cookies. You want to get rid of the junk, but you want to retain only cookies for specific sites. Which is why we must explore Forget Me Not, a really handy and useful Firefox add-on. Commence.

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Updated: May 13, 2020 | Category: Windows

BleachBit review

Once upon a time in Dedoimedoland, I used CCleaner to do some basic housekeeping in Windows. Over the years, the program seems to have caught a lot of (colorful) spotlight, which made me wary of using the newer versions. While I had very little problems myself, I wanted to explore other options, see whether there are other simple, free and practical housekeeping utilities for Windows.

The answer is, of course there are. But the thing is, I have become far more stringent and rigorous in testing software, and then vetting it into anything resembling production setups. Plus Windows 10 comes with some new tools for old data and cruft cleanup. Among the many different options, I decided to try BleachBit. I first got acquainted with it on Linux - where I find system cleanup tools to be dangerous, but the familiarity made me give it another whirl, this time in Windows. Proceed, we shall.

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Updated: May 11, 2020 | Category: Linux

Broken apt

The problem you're facing is as follows. You tried to run a regular update on your Linux box, most likely an Ubuntu- or Debian-based system that uses apt as its package manager. After you updated the repo contents, you ran the dist-upgrade command, and soon hit an error. Apt was complaining about missing or broken dependencies, and suggested you re-run the command with --fix-broken or alike. However, this does not seem to help.

I encountered this issue a few weeks back on KDE neon. The problem really annoyed me, because without some expert knowledge, there's no way out. You're left with an unusable system that cannot be reliably updated. This is so brittle, and we're in 2020, when one would expect some level of robustness from software. LELZ. I did praise neon in the past for its resilience, but then it went ahead and undid its own work. Anyway, let me show you how you can resolve this issue.

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Updated: May 10, 2020 | Category: Linux

Xubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa

After Kubuntu, it's Xubuntu time. We need to embark on another distro test, now that the hunting season is officially open. The first four months of this year weren't kind to my mojo. I tried a few systems, and most of them didn't really deliver, adding to my spiritual disillusionment. Now, Kubuntu 20.04 was surprisingly neat. So I'm sort of cautiously optimistic.

Xubuntu is my next gig. The odds are ... mixed. Xfce can be a blast when done right, especially if you're in the game of hardware frugality. But it can also be a bad case of misplaced nostalgia. Like when you remember a decade fondly, but then you think more deeply, and suddenly recall also all the other things that don't come up in that first gushing moment of glorified memories. Anyway, G50 laptop, multi-boot combo with Windows and Linux, and off we go.

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Updated: May 8, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma system area icon spacing

Overall, I'm mighty pleased with the Plasma desktop. But come version 5.16, y'know, two versions behind the most recent one - Plasma 5.18 LTS, there have been a few less-than-ideal changes, mostly tiny visual things that make the desktop less sharp than before. Again, since the desktop evolves quite rapidly, by the time you read this, we might all be using flying cars and atomic refridgerators and talk to AI assistants like all the time. Or not really.

Well, one of the things I find less nice in the new more-touchy more-plasticky Plasma of recent is that the system area icon spacing is a bit off. Less than ideal. The icons sit too close to one another. So I got me thinking, how does one edit this? Well, the answer isn't trivial, hence this article. Begin to explore!

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Updated: May 6, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma & Unity looks, continued

After writing my article on how to style the Plasma desktop to look like Unity, I received a fair deal of emails from readers, including the author of Latte Dock, offering various tips and suggestions on how to improve my work. This included changes to my panel and dock configuration, the use of other widgets that do not require compilation, some other ideas, and such.

Well, since we're after perfection, a true form of art, it's only natural that I write a sequel. This isn't a comprehensive compilation of all the tips and tricks I received, just a selection of the ones that made most sense to me. Of course, I had to make sure everything actually works, and some things are far from trivial, hence this article. Let's begin.

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Updated: May 4, 2020 | Category: Internet

WordPress & cURL error 28

Recently, I discovered an interesting little problem. I run WordPress on my books-only website, and naturally, there's testing that needs to be done to make sure everything is hunky-dory ere any changes are introduced to the domain. One such change was the introduction of the Site Health check tool in WordPress 5.2, which tells you of any critical issues and recommended actions for your setup.

On its own, this is fine, but then I noticed a couple of supposedly critical errors showing up with update to 5.4, indicating a sudden new issue with the domain. The errors were: The REST API encountered an error and Your site could not complete a loopback request. The details for both these read: Error: cURL error 28: Operation timed out after 10000 milliseconds with 0 bytes received (http_request_failed). Weird. Let's debug.

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Updated: May 1, 2020 | Category: Linux

Kubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa review

I don't know why, but for some reason, as I started my Kubuntu test today, Pet Shop Boys' Go West started playing in me head. Associative memory or something. Indeed, here we are. The spring distro hunting season is officially open, and we commence with Kubuntu 20.04.

The hopes are high. Long Term support, Plasma 5.18, all sorts of improvements and goodies. Plus, if you recall, I'm running Kubuntu 18.04 as my production operating system on the Slimbook Pro2 laptop, so there's an upgrade to contemplate, as well. The test box? The G50 workhorse; UEFI, 16 partitions, Intel graphics. Let's.

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Updated: April 29, 2020 | Category: Internet

Firefox 75 urlbar change

Firefox 75 brought about a pointless change - the address bar (urlbar) now sort of "zooms in" when clicked, partially obscuring the surrounding UI, including any shortcuts you may have pinned there. This thing feels totally mobile, and totally wrong on the desktop. For the time being, as I've shown you in the article above, this nonsense can be reverted through a number of about:config settings.

But in Firefox 77 (nightly), these options are gone, so we need something else. In this tutorial, I will show you how you can get the old address bar look & feel, so you will not be affected by low-IQ changes come the dire moment. Just as I thought Firefox was rising above the mobile toss-me-a-chromosome game, this kind of thing comes around. Follow me.

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Updated: April 27, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma 5.18.4 review

Several months ago, I reviewed Plasma 5.18 LTS. I was happy but not elated. There were problems, there were bugs, there was sadness. But all in all, Plasma is a superb desktop environment, it's charging forth like a mad colt, and innovation is aplenty. This good momentum results in continuous changes and fixes being introduced to the desktop, resulting in an ever-more-refined product for the end user.

This means, by now, Plasma 5.18 should be quite polished. The rough patches we saw are most likely gone, no more, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet their maker, a stiff, bereft of life, rest in peace! But, we need to test that hypothesis. As it happens, I ran a merry update, Plasma got bumped to 5.18.4, and I'm doing my round of prodding and pushing. Follow me.

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Updated: April 25, 2020 | Category: Internet

Firefox 75 review

I've done a fair share of Firefox-related articles lately. 'Tis a strange dichotomy what lurks in me heart. On one hand, I'm quite angry over the years of lost elan as a result of the whole Chrome copypasta Australis nonsense. On the other, Firefox is the most sensible browser out there, still, and you SHOULD use it. On the third hand, Firefox has been improving lately, becoming saner, more fun, more reasonable. A good start, and hopefully, not too late.

I gave you an overview of versions 71 and 72, lay low for a while, and now, with Firefox 75 out, I did some testing. As it turns out, with the fastened cadence of release, there ought to be less super-big stuff in Firefox releases, ergo lean reporting. But then, this particular version comes with something that took me off the happy path I've been walking lately. Let's talk.

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Updated: April 24, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 30

Lee Qiang opened the email. It was in Mandarin:

I know you're angry. I know you feel like I betrayed you. But we both know that's not the case. This is war, and as luck would have it, we fight for different sides in this sorry conflict. We both know what it takes—whatever it takes—to finish the mission. I could not have given up mine, and I know you know and respect that. You would have done the same. Had I given up, I would have lost your respect, and no matter how insincere that may sound to you, I find that important.

Read more ... (my books-only website)

Updated: April 22, 2020 | Category: Linux

SparkyLinux 2020.03 review

A man does not need much to be happy. Maybe a nice car, loads of money, a house somewhere tropic, perhaps his own castle with fortifications and remotely operated machine gun nests, a strong family line, good food, plenty of sleep and other health-related activities, robots, and yes, a stable operating system. That's a tricky one if you be a-huntin' on the Penguin Island AKA Linuxland.

Recently AKA 2020, I embarked on Obscure Weekly (thank you Dodgeball for this fine reference), mostly testing less-known, less-popular, less-appreciated distros. This was an emotional gamble, as I found out more disappointment than aforementioned joy in my pursuit of happiness. I toned it down with some upbeat Manjaro testing, but all in all, it wasn't a tremendous start. Now, a new candidate. A new gamble. Can SparkyLinux spark my sparkle? I last tried it in 2013, and it was ... odd. Listless. Well, let's see if we can rekindle the fire. Testing the semi-rolling 2020.3 release clad in Xfce on my G50 multi-boot laptop. After me.

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Updated: April 20, 2020 | Category: Internet

Google Chrome & Windows desktop icon refresh

Here's the oddest little problem you may face - or read about - in a while. On one of my Windows machines, I noticed a strange phenomenon. Every time I'd launch Google Chrome (latest version when written), close the browser, or - best yet - sign in or out of a Gmail account, all my desktop icons would refresh.

Looking around, I did find a Chromium bug report from 2015, which also mentioned a workaround. Needless to say, the specific workaround is no longer available, as the user icon is no longer present in the Chrome window border, and flags occasionally come and go, as they represent experimental browser features. But this was a good starting point, so I went about testing and tweaking, until I found the right solution. After me.

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Updated: April 18, 2020 | Category: Linux

CentOS 8 perfect desktop - sequel

It's time for another article in my years-long CentOS pimpification series. We started this with CentOS 6 back in the day, continued with CentOS 7, and recently, I've also shown you how to transform the relatively dull yet fully functional server distro AKA CentOS 8 into a nice and fun desktop. We did many a cool task, but there's more to be done.

So I set about polishing the desktop some extra, adding new software, making fresh changes, testing every which option in order to discover the corner cases and resolve them. It mostly went well, but then, a few things didn't. Which means, for the first time, we will have an imperfect desktop. I wasn't expecting this, but I guess that's part of this ongoing adventure. Let's commence.

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Updated: April 17, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 29

"How are you?"

"Nervous," Sveta said.

Lee Qiang smiled. "That facade finally crumbling, eh?"

Sveta made a wry face. "I have seen prisoner exchanges before. Sometimes they go badly wrong. I'd rather be crossing the Volga River in a Taifun. At least there I had the feeling of being in control."

Is that what's bothering you? Lee Qiang wondered. That you are no longer in control? That you cannot manipulate anymore? That you're going back to your side, which may not look fondly on your getting captured?

Read more ... (my books-only website)

Updated: April 15, 2020 | Category: Internet

Microsoft Edge on Android review

My overall experience with Microsoft product has been largely bi-polar over the years. Either it's brilliant or chute d'oiseaux par excellence, with a rare meh in between. For example, the EMET framework or Windows Phone, the best thing since sliced bread and space-based lasers. But then, you have things like Windows 8 Start Menu or the Settings in Windows 10, which challenge my chromosomes.

Edge, the browser, is another example. I loved it on my Lumia 950. It was fast and elegant. On the desktop, it's a paperweight. Useless. But then, having recently done some testing with Firefox Preview, I decided to put aside my anguish and sense of disillusionment after the demise of the Windows Phone, and give Edge another chance. Only on Android this time.

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Updated: April 13, 2020 | Category: Linux

Puppy Linux BionicPup 8.0

In this day and age, one might feel like there's no need for distros like Puppy Linux. You could say, Ubuntu-based, why bother, use the official distro and whatnot. But that feeling and that saying would be misplaced. Because there's still room for ultra-frugal live-session Tux o' All Trades systems like Puppy. This is why we're here.

I've used Puppy for many a summer, and I've always liked its premise. Small, fast, live CD/thumb drive system with optional persistence, lots of apps designed to work out of the box on all manner of hardware, including old and weak systems. In a way, this is your Swiss Army knife for travel and opportunistic use. But going back to the skeptics, is it still relevant in 2020? Let's find out.

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Updated: April 11, 2020 | Category: Internet

Firefox - cannot set as default browser

Remember my neon escapade with the Network Manager? Turns out, this wasn't the only bugbear I had to face that day. As part of my VPN testing procedure, I also copied a hardened browser profile from Kubuntu into neon, in order to save some time. I wasn't in the mood in having to reconfigure everything, from adblocking to user agent, popup blocking, WebRTC tweaks, and alike. Indeed, one of the elegant things about Firefox is that you can easily copy your profile between machines, and I've done this many many times in the past, with great success.

But then, Firefox started pestering me with the question whether to make it a default browser. Every launch. It would seem my selection wasn't being respected. Even worse, clicking on the Make default button in the browser preferences didn't do anything. A fix was needed.

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Updated: April 8, 2020 | Category: Linux

YADM and Homeshick review

Backups are important. Backups are crucial. Backups are love, backups are life. Over the years, I've talked about the cardinal value of keeping your data safe, and that means multiple copies, multiple locations. We also talked about how to concoct your own quick 'n' dirty setup with tar and gpg recently. That one covers both data and application settings. Speaking of the latter ...

Let's expand on this some more. If you have multiple computers, reinstall systems frequently, or just like to have a consistent configuration across multiple hosts, you might be interested in a way to manage application settings. In Linux, most software keeps their configurations in hidden files inside the home directory, either at the top level (/home/username) or inside the .config sub-directory. Either way, there could be plenty of them, you want to make sure you always have a copy, and if something goes wrong, you can easily revert to a good checkpoint. Introducting YADM and Homeshick.

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Updated: April 6, 2020 | Category: Other software

Biogenesis review

Molecular biology is a fascinating thing. Combine it with computers, and you get yourself a platform for studying the evolution of life. Not an easy one, and scientists worldwide have been at this problem for many years now, trying to understand and replicate the environmental conditions that led to the creation of life on Earth.

If you're fascinated by the concepts of amino acids, RNA, cellular division and alike, you can partake in the discovery journey with Biogenesis, a free, cross-platform, Java-based visual microbiology simulator. The idea is simple: you get a primordial soup, and you get to control it, studying and creating organisms of your own. Sounds like good, solid educational fun. Let there be light. I mean Java.

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Updated: April 4, 2020 | Category: Linux

Manjaro 19 Kyria Gnome review

Flashing my dope cool nerd badge. Agent Dedo, at your service. Why? Because I'm testing an Arch-based distro again. Now, over the years, Manjaro has done a great deal to distance itself from its sacrificial altar roots, and now caters to people who prefer things more desktopy. That doesn't meant it's all 4% milk and yak butter from here on, oh no. But it's steadily improving, and my impressions of yesterversion were jolly.

But then, in the last few tests, I tried Plasma, Xfce and Cinnamon editions - not Gnome just yet. While I think it's an unnecessary toll on resources maintaining four different desktops, perhaps we might be pleasantly surprised. After all, Manjaro has always managed to sneak in cool features amidst the nerdery. My test box be Lenovo G50, with its multi-boot boogaloo. Let's commence.

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Updated: April 3, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 27

Ignoring the wounded, Lee Qiang tuned his mind back to the fight. They had to neutralize the armor first. If they did not, they would all die.

He tried to close his fist. It worked. He opened it. A spongy feeling, but his muscles responded. His sleeve was drenched with blood. The fabric was ripped in two places where the shrapnel had cut through.

Lee Qiang rose, using his left arm to pull himself up against the greasy side of the all-terrain vehicle. The cannon breech was closed. Lonya must have reloaded a fresh shell before the Type 89 fired. Lee Qiang positioned himself behind the gunner sight, aiming the iron at the AFV.

Read more ... (my books-only website)

Updated: April 1, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma Network Manager, limited connectivity

As it turns out, breaking your system is very easy, if you set your heart and mind to it. This problem has a convoluted origin and a rather interesting solution, so bear with me. As it happens, 'twas a dark and rainy night, and I set about testing several VPN services. One of them: Mullvad. It worked fine for a while, but then I upgraded the application version from the 2019.1 build to 2019.8 build, and things stopped working fine. Whenever I'd connect to VPN, DNS resolution would stop. Test box: Kubuntu 18.04.

I wasn't sure if this was specific to my host or a wider problem, so I decided to test in KDE neon, too, which happens to be one of the many distros I have installed on the G50 laptop. A reboot or two later, lots of nice Plasma updates (going up to 5.16.90 at the time of writing), and some small tweaks, I had Mullvad running fine. But then, the Network Manager started to complain about limited connectivity. Let's see what gives.

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Updated: March 30, 2020 | Category: Office

OCRFeeder review

Recently, finding really cool, new, unique Linux software has become a difficult task. A chore. And by recently, I actually meant these past four or five years, even since the slow decline of enthusiasm and innovation in the desktop space started. After all, there's a limit to how much good stuff can exist in a finite volume of intellect, but let's not forget the wrong shift of focus to mobile and the shattering of the year-of-the-Linux dream.

This makes my test of a four-year-old piece of software named OCRFeeder valid, I think. For two reasons. If it's good, it's good. Second, I've always been interested in the progress of optical character recognition, and whether our tools (read AI) can do a reasonable job here. I wrote about this in detail a while back, and then reviewed YAGF in 2015. Now, let's have a look at OCRFeeder and what it can do. After me, brave Linux warriors.

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Updated: March 28, 2020 | Category: Linux

Arcolinux 19.12 review

Walking the Tux road, one system at a time. A short while back, I thought a departure from the proven mainstream dozen distros would do me some fresh good. So I grabbed Solus OS, I tested Peppermint, and now, I'd like to embark on an Arch adventure.

Previously known as ArchMerge, Arcolinux is a distro that obeys Monty Python's rule of three. Three shall be the number of versions, and the number of desktop environments shall be three. Not two, not four. ArcoLinux has the main edition plus D and B builds for tinkerers. I opted for the Xfce-clad 19.12 release. Without further ado, let's see what gives.

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Updated: March 27, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 26

"Maybe you use some of that gay charm to talk our way out of this?"

Lee Qiang put a hand on Lip's shoulder and loved the fact the man flinched ever so subtly. "Not sure if that's going to work here, but thank you for your suggestion."

There was a bridge.

Flowing lazily under it, the Volga River.

Guarding both banks was a shady bunch of troops in mismatched camo and a serious stock of weapons.

Read more ... (my books-only website)

Updated: March 25, 2020 | Category: Hardware, Linux

Ultrabook road test

Over the past several months, you've read my Slimbook combat reports, detailing my real, production-level use of a Linux-only laptop for serious stuff. But this is not the first time I've utilized a Linux machine for actual desktop work. There was the eeePC, a journey-hardened beast. And then, we also have an age-weathered 2013-vintage Asus Vivobook, which has served loyally in this capacity for several years.

For almost five years, the laptop ran the most excellent Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty, and it did well, at home and abroad, in known and unknown locations. It was always utterly stable, the keyboard is amazing, the battery life has always been decent even if the performance isn't that stellar. The only complaint would be a somewhat weak Wireless signal compared to most other machines. Several months ago, come the end of Trusty LTS, I upgraded the system to Bionic, and installed Unity and Plasma desktops. In this article, I want to tell you how the Ultrabook fared in so-called "combat" conditions since. After me.

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Updated: March 23, 2020 | Category: Office

Calibre review

What makes for a really good program? The usual suspects would be efficiency, stability and great functionality. But what about the frequency of use? Well, not if Calibre has anything to do with it. Because this is an application that I use relatively sparingly, and yet, it's an immensely useful, possibly even irreplaceable tool when you need to do any sort of e-book work. For authors, doubly so. Being one, ergo hint, ipso facto, then perhaps it's time for a review.

I've been using Calibre for years now - I've even written a short tutorial on how to convert KFX files a while back, but so far, I have failed to write a full, proper review. Because it's not just a program to convert among different e-book formats. It's so much more. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's begin.

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Updated: March 21, 2020 | Category: Windows

Open-Shell review

Some weeks ago, I encountered the Windows 10 black-screen search bug while setting up a new computer, just before I managed to put in the tweak that disables any sort of online search functionality. This was a silly bug that shouldn't have happened, and a day later, I would have missed it. But it got me thinking. Maybe it's time to re-explore Classic Shell?

Classic Shell was the one tool that allowed me to use Windows 8, without having to go through the chromosomally challenged full-screen Start Screen that was supposed to be the new rage of touchified nonsense in the desktop space. Then, I discovered that Classic Shell had ceased development. But there's a fork available, called Open-Shell, and it's also supposed on Windows 10. So I started testing.

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Updated: March 20, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 25

Yefim had rhotacism.

Back in Poland, when Lee Qiang had been growing up, such a speech impediment would have earned a child a lifetime worth of beating. Probably in all the Slavic countries. The fact Yefim was still very much healthy and alive in Sector 8 meant the childhood bullying had prepared him well.

They sat in the man's house, in what would technically be the living room, drinking too-sweet tea from small crystal glasses. It was surreal.

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Updated: March 18, 2020 | Category: Linux

Translation tools in Gnome, KDE

Here's an interesting problem slash scenario for you. The Gnome and Plasma desktop environments support online account integration to some extent. Fine. You also have fairly powerful, online-aware search tools, which let you do all sorts of complex actions, including wiki queries, mathematical calculations, application functions, and more. Krunner in Plasma is a great example.

But then, you don't really get translations. If you work with several languages and you have a need for occasional linguistic sparring, this option doesn't really feature highly in Linux desktops. Or at all. Combine that with the healthy fact you have no integrated assistants (Siri, Cortana, Alexa, whatnot) that could potentially do this for you, translations are something you must either: a) do online yourself b) use a dedicated app. So I thought, is there an easy way to integrate this kind of functionality into the Linux desktop, Plasma and/or Gnome? Well, let's find out.

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Updated: March 9, 2020 | Category: Office

FocusWriter review

A few weeks ago, I was looking around for some nice Linux software, and I came across the home page of the person who had created the Whisker Menu for Xfce. Since I really like this one - I even included it as my favorite desktop menu in the 2018 best Linux apps compilation, I was intrigued by the other software in the repertoire, and decided to do some random testing. A program called FocusWriter drew my attention.

Well, FocusWriter is meant to be a simple, straightforward, distraction-free advanced text editor, designed to provide those using it with maximum productivity. In other words, you don't waste time managing the software, you don't waste time getting your fleeting attention span diverted, you get stuff done. Well, that's the core idea on paper. As someone who writes books, I found the concept curious and inviting. Perhaps I could be doing something more effectively? Well, let's find out.

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Updated: March 7, 2020 | Category: Linux

Cockpit Project review

There are many Web-based admin GUI in Linux. Lots. They all have something in common - they let you monitor and manage your environment using a centralized facility. They also have something else in common, and that's the complexity of configuration. In most cases, if you like to have a robust network of hosts talking to each other, you have to sweat it. XML, JSON, events, whatever. Boring.

The Cockpit Project is an integrated and easy-to-use Web-based management tool, which I happed to discover on Fedora 30 some time ago. Well. While I wasn't too impressed with what Fedora 30 had to offer me, it is a test bed for cool and new technology. So I was quite intrigued and went abed - testing. Or rather, I strapped into the cockpit, ha ha ha, hi hi he. Indeed, let's begin.

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Updated: March 6, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 23

Dusk. Rest.

Orenburg was still there around them, a torn postcard of destruction, obscured by the wilderness. At the bottom of what looked like a dry irrigation canal, there was a convoy of abandoned cars all sunk deep in sandy ground. Plastic bags of rubbish poked through the grass, spangles of red and blue against the sunburnt carpet. Higher on the west bank, there was a bus.

The rust-splotched husk was lying on its belly, the axles half-sunk into the ground, leaning slightly toward the incline. The old thing had burned down, and was mottled reddish-black all over. There was a patina of lichen-like growth climbing up its sides. Inside, the plastic chairs had melted, forming a frozen river. Even now, even with his senses dulled by illness and the ashes, he could smell the waxy, phenol stench.

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Updated: March 4, 2020 | Category: Virtualization

VirtualBox & NAT networks tutorial

Several days ago, I hit an interesting problem slash snag. Well, more sort of an operational challenge that reinforced my liking for VirtualBox. Namely, I wanted to setup a small private network with several virtual machines. One machine would be a server, and others would be clients running agent software and reporting to the server. Sounds simple. Except all my NAT-ed machines were getting the same IP address:

Indeed, if you're using the most basic VM setup - your machines use a single NAT adapter, and as it turns out, each machine gets the exact same IP address, even if they are running in parallel. This means you can't really have a network. Well, not this way. But there is a way. We've talked about VirtualBox network & sharing at quite some length in the past, and I'd like to show you a few more network-related tricks. After me.

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Updated: March 2, 2020 | Category: Linux

Peppermint OS 10

Time to Linux. With a fresh, hale air of shellshocked optimism about it. Hello? Peppermint! The namesake operating system is an Ubuntu-based flavor of Linux, clad in Xfce and meant to be friendly. At the time of writing, all was jolly, but as it happens, today, I noticed the official page throws an out-of-date certificate error, so no direct link. Not the best start either, but the stuff you're about to read has been collected and compiled in the last few weeks.

Anyway, recently, my Linux compass has been pointing off. Not quite where it ought. Sad face. And yet, somehow, I find myself doing the tests again, trying to get the chakras all sorted and buffed. Let's see what Peppermint 10 can do. As always, the guinea pig is the eight-boot Lenovo G50 machine, with its assorted mess of Windows and Linux instances. Onward.

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Updated: February 29, 2020 | Category: Internet

Firefox Preview for Android

After I've published my recent series of Firefox articles, mostly the review of versions 71 & 72, and the important essay on why you should be using it as your primary browser, I got a bunch of emails from readers suggesting I take Firefox Preview for a spin. This seems to be the next-gen edition of Firefox for Android, designed to be faster, lighter and more appealing, and hopefully endear a bunch of hearts to Mozilla's effort.

While I'm not too keen on anything touch, I still want to be able to have a hassle-free, stupidity-free browsing experience anywhere, including the mobile, so I set about testing Firefox Preview. As the test device, I used my Motorola Moto G6 phone, which ought to be fairly representative of the kind of results we should be seeing. Let us begin, then.

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Updated: February 28, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 22

"I have no access."

"You're taking the piss."

Why did I think the enemy would be stupid and incompetent? Just because I managed to screw the lead security developer?

There could be a million reasons why the system refused him entry. It was unlikely the Alliance space command changed things too often, but they just might. Security codes, protocols, ciphers—there were infinite possibilities. Lee Qiang didn't have time to indulge in self-pity. This was going to be one hell of a battle to the death.

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Updated: February 26, 2020 | Category: Windows

Windows 10 post-install tweaks

Typically, I write post-install tweak guides for Linux distributions. And yet, here I am, blithely writing one for Windows 10. The reason is, recently, I did a Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade, and then, roughly at the same time, I bought a new desktop and had it freshly installed with Microsoft's latest operating system. Both these experiences provided me with enough data to write an article. This article.

Before you read on, my angle is as follows: I don't like low-IQ stuff. This means mobile stuff, especially when applied to the desktop. Anything touch on the desktop, don't want. Touch-optimized software is inferior to full desktop programs, and it doesn't belong on workstations where you work with the keyboard and mouse. This naturally extends to anything "online" that happens on the desktop, like tiles, Web applications, the whole drama for the common chimp. Hence, this tutorial will show you the range of different things I did to make my Windows 10 experience pleasant, efficient and quiet. Follow me.

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Updated: February 24, 2020 | Category: Hardware

Motorola One Zoom follow-up review

It has been a few weeks since I've embarked on my One Zoom adventure - which means I'm no longer using my fabulous Lumia 950, and my touch experience focuses primarily around Android. Now, this does not mean it's a tragic or a bad experience. Far from it. I'm quite pleased with how things have turned out. I was able to tame the operating system, reduce the noise and low-IQ features, the hardware behaves well, the camera is splendid, and all in all, Android delivered reasonable, better-than-expected results.

But that's early glamor. With a moon or two behind us, I had a chance to sample the phone in a series of real-life scenarios, things that you can't necessarily plan for or do in a restricted early testing set. Somewhat similar to what I've shown you with my Moto G6 and the Android road test. Now, let me share some more findings from the One Zoom usage.

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Updated: February 22, 2020 | Category: Linux

Solus 4.1 Budgie review

Commence to test a fresh distro. I took a short break from Linux distros after the end-of-year compilations, because overall, I felt exhausted by the indefinite products, the unpredictable outcome, the emotional seesaw of quality, brilliance and then sadness. Now, with renewed vigor (Igor with vigor, right), I'm about to set sail into the Tux waters once again. Our candidate today: Solus 4.1 Budgie.

Last year, I was pleased with Solus 4.0 Fortitude. First, it was my only successful complete test with this system, after several botched attempts in the past, mostly due to bootloader problems. Second, despite the rough patches, it delivered a pretty interesting, reliable and even moderately fun setup, so much in fact, that is scored quite highly in my Best of Gnome annual summary, even though Budgie isn't technically Gnome, but then, it is. Anyway, we're testing again. So let's begin.

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Updated: February 21, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 21

Waiting was the hardest thing for a soldier. Waiting for sentry duty to tick away so you could go back to sleep. Waiting for the weekend pass. Waiting to hear whether you'd qualified for the next stage in the training process. Waiting for news from your family or the estranged loved one. Waiting for the enemy to do something.

That was the worst.

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Updated: February 19, 2020 | Category: Hardware

Hard disk reliability study

As you already know, I like to do long-term tests and reviews of hardware and software that I use. Over the years, I've given you my take on how different operating systems progress and change, how different laptops cope with the passage of time, and now, I want to embark on my most ambitious long-term project yet. A reliability study of hard disks. I've waited fifteen years to publish it.

Because I needed time to gather data that has value to the readers. Unlike Google and Backblaze, I don't have thousands of disks buzzing in a data center, so I couldn't just provide any sort of results quickly. But I think you will find this study valuable, as it took place in my production setup, under real-life conditions most home users could or would encounter.

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Updated: February 17, 2020 | Category: Linux

Plasma 5.18 LTS review

Here we go. The KDE team has released the latest version of Plasma, numbered 5.18. This also happens to be a Long Term Support (LTS) release, which in Plasma parlance means two years of support. Since I'm an avid user, and even have Plasma deployed in my production setup via Kubuntu 18.04 running on a Slimbook Pro2, it's time to set scopes on the future, and see what gives.

I did my testing on Lenovo G50, which happens to be my hardware scapegoat de jour. Also, I have KDE neon installed there, Developer Edition (Stable), so I get to see all the little changes and fixes and whatnot almost as soon as they are introduced. This means I had a chance to sample Plasma 5.18 since the earliest build, and now that we have the official release, I must share me experience. Avanti.

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Updated: February 15, 2020 | Category: Windows

How to block Internet Explorer

Like many a techie, I've read the recent flurry of advisories on a new critical vulnerability in the Internet Explorer legacy scripting engine (jscript.dll), and how it's being actively exploited. On its own, this can happen, right. But what annoyed me was the portend of gloom and doom around the Web. Mostly panic, with very little focus on trying to analyze this problem, and see if it can be mitigated in an elegant way.

In fact, Microsoft has listed a workaround - you can deny access to the affected library. But this also causes side effects. You may see problems with printing, access to the group policy editor, and a few other issues. So I sat down and thought, is there a way to reduce the impact of the vulnerability, without actually making the system go all wonky?

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Updated: February 14, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 20


Everyone shared the sentiment, even Lee Qiang.

Crossing the no-man's-land of empty fields, flattened neighborhoods, and glassified rubble only partially covered in dirt and weed, he had felt exposed, vulnerable, impotent, feeling half a dozen scopes trailing him, making his skin itch. But no bullets came.

They had settled in a less devastated part of the city, with some of the concrete and iron frames still standing, providing some cover from the wind and any chance patrols. Thorny, tough vegetation crept over everything, reclaiming what used to be its kingdom. It was hard to imagine what this city had looked like whole. It looked like a bad, deliberate prop from a war movie.

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Updated: February 12, 2020 | Category: Hardware

New custom desktop PC

How frequently should one replace their desktop systems? Every three years? Four? Five? How about nine? Indeed, with my primary desktop slowly but surely approaching its first two-digit birthday, I thought it would be prudent to buy a successor for its honorable, loyal, kickass service.

And so I went a-shoppin', and got myself a new desktop. The idea is to have a general-purpose computer that will be practical, useful, relevant, and powerful enough for all necessary tasks for a good few years. To be more precise, a full decade. Hence beginneth the adventure of my new PC. Let's see what gives.

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Updated: February 10, 2020 | Category: Office

Customize Microsoft Office installations tutorial

Back in 2016, I bought myself a copy of Microsoft Office 2016 Pro Plus. I didn't really need it, and the actual installer sat on a proverbial shelf for about three years, collecting digital dust. Then, I did have a need, a need for office, and I ran the installer. I expected it to give me some customization options, as I was only interested in the three main programs - Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and didn't care about the rest of the suite.

Lo and behold, the installer completed without asking me anything, and all the programs were set up. No. So I spent time trying to find a way to undo this nonsense and then re-setup Office with just the three applications, and the end result is this tutorial. Let me show you the rather non-trivial way of how you need to go about customized Office installations. After me.

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Updated: February 8, 2020 | Category: Media

OBS Studio review

Having recently tested Kdenlive 19.08 and then taken a brief but pleasant look at OpenShot, I decided to expand my cinematic horizons and explore some additional software on the media market. One program that came into the hazy spotlight is Open Broadcast Software (OBS), a free and open-source video editor, designed primarily for video recording and live streaming.

Well, here I am, with me unfunny collection of Youtube clips, and here it is, OBS, waiting for me to test and review it. Sounds like a plan, and proceed so we shall. Once again, I'm back on Linux, in Kubuntu, but that shouldn't really make much difference. Anyway, let's begin.

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Updated: February 7, 2020 | Category: Books

The Golden Horde weekly serial, Chapter 19

The village was not marked on any map.

Of course.

It was a collection of half-ruined buildings, rubbish, and rust-eaten cars. There was an old tractor in the field directly south of the house strip and its cracked road, but it was sunk half a meter deep into the hard ground. The water tower had more holes than tin. The barn had gaping holes in the roof, probably caused by mortar.

Lee Qiang looked at Sveta. She just shrugged.

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Updated: February 6, 2020 | Category: Linux

Geany plugins, tips and tricks

A few months ago, in my quest to find THE text editor for Linux, I came across Geany, and it got me pleasantly surprised. It shares a lot of underlying goodness with Notepad++, my go-to text program, a Windows-only application that I nevertheless often use in various distros through WINE. Geany is powerful, efficient and versatile, and so I expanded my exploration quite some.

I also got lots of emails from you, telling me about useful plugins, which I could try to improve my productivity still further, especially since I've noted Geany doesn't have all the features that its Windows counterpart boasts. Well, in this article, I'd like to share with you some of the excellent plugins as well as some other neat tricks in Geany, all of which ought to make it even more practical and fun. Let's commence.

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Updated: February 3, 2020 | Category: Linux

Fedora & root account locked boot issue

Three years ago, I wrote an article that explaining how to recover from a failed boot following a major version upgrade in Fedora. At that time, I was working with Fedora 25, and suddenly, I was no longer able to get to the desktop. The issue turned out to be a buggy initramfs, which is an issue I've only encountered once in the past, back in Ubuntu, back in 2009. Since, it's been quiet.

Well, the wheel of time has dumped us back at the beginning. The same issue happened again. I had (somewhat) recently upgraded an instance of Fedora 29 to Fedora 30, and lo and behold, I found myself facing the same problem. Almost. I had a black screen, and a message that said: Cannot open access to console, the root account is locked. At this point, trying to do anything didn't yield any results. I could only reboot. I did try another kernel, and this helped - I got to my desktop. While the issue seems to be similar, I had to go a slightly different way about fixing it.

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Updated: February 1, 2020 | Category: Other operating systems

GhostBSD 20 review

In the Linux world, Arch is the great noob equalizer. But there's an ever more frightening beast in the forest. It's BSD, and even invoking its name can send the lesser man into despair. The simple truth of the matter is, throughout the nerdy circles of the world, BSD holds a respectable place as a stable, reliable workhorse. But it's never distinguished itself as a viable desktop alternative.

Over the years, I've dabbled in BSD quite some - you can check my UNIX reviews to figure out what gives. Sometimes, there would be this or that BSD flavor that surprised with its simplicity, but things would usually unravel at some point, whether it's hardware compatibility, disk-greedy partitioning, or perhaps the ease of everyday use. Then, recently, I came across GhostBSD, and it looks pretty and inviting. So let's see what gives.

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