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A disenchanted Thinkpad user looks for a quality Linux laptop

I’m a longtime Linux + Thinkpad loyalist, currently looking for a new laptop, but considering jumping ship from Thinkpad. I mainly do a lot of typing and recently lots of videoconferencing. I don’t really care about the hardware specs as long as it has 16GB of RAM, an SSD, and the hardware is completely hassle-free with Linux. Battery life should be at least average, so probably either 6 cells or a crazy-efficient CPU. And I need it to be high-quality and long-lasting with zero annoyances, as even small niggles can become unbearable after 14 hours of use, 7 days a week. This means that factors like fan noise, function keys, trackpad location, and the location of other important keys can make or break the deal for me. A bit of history: My current daily driver is a Thinkpad T530, and it’s the best laptop I’ve ever owned. Mine has the best of the three screen options for this model, an FHD (1920x1080), and it’s still one of the best laptop screens I’ve ever seen. Read more

Detailed tests of search engines: Google, Startpage, Bing, DuckDuckGo, metaGer, Ecosia, Swisscows, Searx, Qwant, Yandex, and Mojeek

Since my last in-depth comparison review of alternative search engines in 2014, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. Google is appearing as a loan-verb in more and more languages due to its continued dominance in the search engine market. But at the same time, Google is being increasingly demonized by privacy focused users. An even more interesting development is the trend of complaints that Google’s algorithm is producing results that are less relevant and more indicative of artificial stupidity than artificial intelligence. I belong in this latter camp, as I am more of a pragmatist than a privacy pundit. I simply want the best search results with minimal effort and no nonsense. Back in my 2014 article, I was hopeful that DuckDuckGo was quickly becoming a viable and attractive alternative to Google. While DuckDuckGo continues to be the darling of privacy conscious users and is enjoying more popularity than ever, I am concerned that its core search infrastructure and algorithms have largely stagnated. Read more

Review: DuckDuckGo (May 2014 redesign) Compared to Google, Bing, Yandex

If you are reading this article, you’ve probably already heard of DuckDuckGo. Internet users that stick with the status quo usually don’t look any farther than the first search option offered by their web browser. On the other hand, inquisitive users that depend on the Internet for statistics, comparisons, and hidden pearls of useful information are probably all too familiar with the perks and pitfalls of the current Internet search engines. DuckDuckGo was nothing more than a miniscule blip on the radar of demanding Internet searchers since its inception in 2008. However, the recent scandal of NSA monitoring resulted in a massive influx of users defecting to DuckDuckGo. And a major refresh of DuckDuckGo’s interface in May, 2014 also attracted the attention of many new users, including myself. So, how does DuckDuckGo compare to the big players in the Internet search engine field? Will users who prefer DuckDuckGo for privacy related issues find what they are searching for? Read more

Review: Manjaro Linux 0.8.9 (Cinnamon edition)

Arch Linux is highly respected throughout the Linux community as a cutting edge, well designed, rolling-release Linux distro with superb documentation. But at the same time, it is also discarded as a non-option by many Linux users, including experienced ones, for being time consuming to install and configure. I fall into this latter group. So, what’s a self-respecting Linux user supposed to do if (s)he wants to run Arch Linux but doesn’t want to a dedicate a whole weekend to it? Enter Manjaro, a Linux distro based on Arch. It is important to note that Manjaro is not just a re-branded Arch spin. In fact, it’s not truly an Arch system, and it does not use the Arch binary package repositories. But it’s dependent on Arch and it supposedly maintains all of the desirable features of Arch, while at the same time trying to mitigate or solve some of Arch’s less than desirable traits. Read more

Configuring and Debugging My Linode VPS with an SPF Record that Passes the Gmail Spam Filter

I have been having no end of problems with my outbound email messages sent by my Drupal sites since I switched from shared hosting to VPS hosting. A typical shared host offers a well configured SMTP server with documentation about how to configure the MX and SPF records. On the other hand, a VPS requires the administrator to install and configure the mail transfer agent, which can be surprisingly complex. Even more difficult is the fact that the VPS provider can’t really provide a one-size-fits-all set of instructions for configuring the MX and SPF records, since there are many more variables controlled by the VPS administrator. So, suffice to say that email configuration is probably the most dreaded task of most VPS administrators. In fact, many prefer to avoid the pain and suffering altogether and use a third party email provider. However, in my case, since one of my sites sends a lot of forum activity notification emails, I prefer to save on the cost of a third party email provider and do it myself. Read more

In support of open source launchers

After many years of using traditional desktop environments like Gnome 2 and KDE and XFCE, I recently spent a few months with Ubuntu 13.04. Overall, my experience with the Unity desktop was fairly positive after I tweaked and configured it to my liking. Since then, I’m using a different non-Ubuntu based distribution, so I’m currently using Mate 1.6. Probably the feature that I most miss from Unity is the launcher. Frankly, I’m surprised that the Unity launcher was so useful and intuitive for me, since I have never been particularly fond of keyboard navigation. Although I still don’t use the keyboard much for window management or within the applications, now that I’m back on Mate I find myself really missing the convenience of searching and launching both apps and files from one unified interface with just a few keywords. With the online results all disabled, Unity’s launcher learns from the user’s habits and quickly becomes uncannily accurate at suggesting relevant local files and applications based on a few letters of input. Read more

The best WYSIWYG option for Drupal is no WYSIWYG

What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editors for Drupal are abundant. Good ones are not. Most WYSIWYG editors for Drupal produce messy markup and don’t respect the site’s CSS theme. Additionally, many of them don’t integrate well with Drupal and cause problems on certain browsers. Worse yet, almost none of them work on Apple and Android tablets and smartphones. There are a few decent WYSIWYG editors for Drupal that can produce decent markup if the writer uses the tool properly. But they are often abused by users who insist on typing up their post in Microsoft Word and then pasting it into the WYSIWYG editor, resulting in awfully messy code that renders terribly. What can be done to avoid these multiple issues? The answer: Don’t use WYSWIYG editors. Now, a Drupal site without WYSIWYG editing does not mean that all users need to become HTML gurus. To the contrary, there are several options for creating content in Drupal in an easy and clean way that doesn’t use messy WYSIWYG editors. Read more

How to use Google CSE with Drupal

It’s been a long time since I visited my site’s Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) settings page. I was happy to see that in 2012 Google apparently added a new option to sort results by date, as well as site image searching. This should be a real boon for users. But at the same time, I noticed that under the Look and Feel settings, it now says that the iFrame display method is deprecated. That’s fine by me, iFrames have been discouraged by web developers for years, so I’m glad to see that Google is moving away from them. So, I happily inserted the new Google CSE code into my Drupal 6 site and tried out the search function, only to be greeted by this error: Page not Found But fortunately, there is a workaround. And it’s not at all easy to find this information on the Internet. Background First of all, I should explain how I implemented the Google CSE on my Drupal 6 site. Read more

Why I use and prefer Drupal

A user once asked me, “If you did it all over again, what CMS would you use?” That’s a good question. I honestly don’t consider myself to be an authority on the subject, but I’d like to share my experience with Drupal 6 as my CMS for a forum site during the past few years. Background In terms of time and experience, to say nothing of my sites, I’m pretty heavily invested in Drupal. I had an initial false start about six years ago with Joomla and a bridge to make SMF forums run inside Joomla. The Joomla part of the site was hacked multiple times, although SMF was never hacked. But I hated having two separate CMS running in tandem, and I grew to hate Joomla’s interface. As for SMF forums, it was fairly capable as a forum, but ugly as sin, not very extensible, and not easy to modify. Read more