Reviews by Whimsicality
Panniers are a staple for carrying stuff on your bike, but sometimes you need to lock your bike and continue on foot. Standard panniers tend to have some sort of carrying straps, but they aren’t very convenient off the rack. Ortlieb Vario PS rises to the challenge by doubling as a backpack!
This isn’t the only backpack pannier out there, but based on my experience and research, it’s likely one of the best. Why? First off, the build quality is good, and being Ortlieb, it’s fully waterproof. As a pannier it functions just as one would expect. It’s really the backpack side that makes things interesting. And I say side for a reason. Unlike in many other backpack panniers, the rack mounts and the backpack straps are on different sides of the bag. This gives room for properly implementing both.
The only hiccup this product runs into is in the backpack mode. There’s a plastic bottom plate, which unfortunately has a tendency to burrow into one’s lower back. Unless remedied, this can make the backpack really painful under a heavier load. Luckily the bottom plate is detachable so one can just take it out, or put some padding to it’s edge. Still, this is a rather dumb design flaw in an otherwise great bag.
The bottom plate is shown in lighter grey. Otherwise one can see that the bag is quite roomy. (Credit: Ortlieb. Fair use)
Despite the one flaw, Vario PS is still probably the best pannier backpack out there. If you’re ever riding with just one pannier, this is a near perfect choice.
Organic maps is FOSS and uses Open Street Map data. You can download regional maps for offline usage. All the basic mapping features are there, though some more advanced ones might still be lacking at this date.
Compared to Google Maps and the like, Organic maps respects your privacy.
Compared OsmAnd — which is the de facto mobile app for OSM — Organic is faster and has a cleaner UI. OsmAnd gets quite laggy when there are a lot of maps downloaded.
Liberapay allows to make recurrent donations to projects and people working on libre projects. It’s non-profit so the only cuts taken are the actual payment fees. You can support Liberapay itself by donating to it’s team within the service.
The site is easy to use and well made. There are good tools for managing your donations. It’s also easy to discover new interesting projects on the platform. I bet you will find there software you’re already using!
This is a 13,3" e-reader, which puts it almost to the size of an A4 paper. At ~900 USD it’s not a cheap device.
A4 paper for comparison. (Own work. License: CC-BY-SA.)
Hardware-wise the device is great. The big e-ink screen is perfect for reading studies etc. pdf-format documents. The slight size deviation from A4 doesn’t matter in practice. You can adjust the backlight brightness and tone to your liking, or just turn it off and read in sunlight. There’s also a stylus which can be used to annotate documents, or you can just take a blanc paper and start drawing. Overall the device feels sturdy.
The software solutions are a bit double edged. On one hand it runs Android, which is obviously better than any custom OS’. However, it’s quite heavily modified version of Android, and some of the choices are rather questionable. But of course Android isn’t going to work nicely on a slow black and white e-ink screen without some modifications, so lets keep that in mind.
The device has it’s own package repository, which contains some basic free apps. It’s possible to access Google Play but it’s not enabled by default, and the process is more complicated than just flipping a switch. Nonetheless it can be done pretty easily and it’s well documented.
The stock reading app is overall good and it sure has a ton of features, like cropping and annotating for example. One complaint is that turning a page requires a really long swipe. It’s like the distance would have been just scaled up with the screen size. (Of course you can turn a page other ways too.) The UI design is also little weird. The numerous features are hidden in different toolbars, in not particularly obvious way. But anyway the app gets the job done and you can download a different one if you don’t like it.
Similar UI oddities can be found elsewhere in the system as well. For example there’s a floating quickball enabled by default. Why on earth would I want some shortcut-smudge floating on the paper I’m reading? Luckily it can be disabled. The UI has an adhoc feeling to it. All in all I think that hiring one more UI designer wouldn’t have hurt. Or alternatively just making minimal modifications to stock Android to begin with.
Now one aspect that really is to my liking. The system exposes a lot of settings for tinkerers like me. Most notably there are a ton of settings about the screen and “colors”. And these settings really come in handy because 3rd party apps are typically designed for quick and colorful LCD displays, and look dark on e-ink. I like the settings, but I understand that they can be overwhelming if you’re the type of person who expects electronics to just work.
But Onyx doesn’t leave you alone with complexity. There is a brilliant documentation available here. IMO these kinds of comprehensive manuals are really underrated. I recommend scrolling through the document if you want to get a better idea of the available features.
To sum up
It’s great for reading PDFs. There are some shortcomings on the software side but it’s less of a problem because you have the freedoms offered by Android. You are given the tools to fix your own problems so to speak. That said, I’d expect a 900$ device to feel more polished.
Image is one of the bigger classic comic publishers. They are probably most know for The Walking Dead, but they publish a really wide range of comics. A lot of indie stuff included. Of course you can get their comics on print, but where they really stand out is the digital realm.
Image is one of the few comic publishers who offer comics without DRM. Though I should note that this does not cover their whole catalogue! (That’s why I dropped the fifth star.) They don’t have a dedicated online store but you can find their comics for example from Comixology. Just make sure to check the DRM-status before hitting buy!
Finally a couple personal recommendations from Image:
This is just brilliant offline dictionary app. It uses dictionary files generated from Wiktionary, so the data is top notch. The UI simple and straightforward. No bloat.
PS. If you ever need good dictionary-files, you can download the ones used by this app from here.
AlternativeTo is a great site for finding alternative software to basically anything. You can search individual apps and see their alternatives, or just browse popular applications in generic categories.
The recommendations are based on user reports. Just create an account and you can post your own recommendations, and help steering people towards good software!
While the site itself is unfortunately not opensource, it does offer great tools for discovering open alternatives to proprietary software. There is an open source tag that you can use to filter the results.
Steam needs no introduction. (Credit: Valve. Fair use.)
When it comes to PC gaming platforms, Steam is the king of the hill.
Steam pretty much has it all. A store with massive selection, community mods, cloud saves, you name it.
What I really would like to focus in this review, is the work they’ve put up to make gaming possible on Linux. Their compatibility tool Proton (or SteamPlay) allows you to run Windows games with just hitting play on Linux. Of course it doesn’t work on every title, but in general the results are impressive. Underneath it’s based on Wine.
Many of the games also simply have native Linux versions available. This is the case for all major Valve titles, which deserves them even more Linux-points.
Privacy issues seem to be in quite good shape too. When creating an account, only an email account and a country of residence are required. It’s also fine to have multiple accounts. One minor hiccup here though: It’s forbidden to use a VPN when creating a new account. I suppose that it’s partly to reduce smurf and cheater accounts in CS:GO and the likes. A minor bummer though.
I have no experience of Steam as a publisher so I cannot comment on that.
Sometimes games (or their steam codes) can be bought cheaper from somewhere else but overall the prices are good. And I’m anyway happy to support a company that has such a strong positive influence on Linux gaming.
The product looks like this. (Credit: Rexona. Fair use.)
Rexona men invisible black + white markets itself as not staining your shirts. After a few uses this really seems to be the case. However, I have used this product long enough to confidently say that it definitely leaves hard yellow stains in the long run. The stains won’t come off in a normal wash (nor have I found a non-normal wash that would save the shirts).
The stains this product leaves are pretty much exactly what they are advertising against in this picture. (Credit: Rexona. Fair use.)
Stains aside, the product works fine as an anti-antiperspirant. There is supposed to be some fancy “motionsense” technology but that’s obviously just marketing crap.
I wouldn’t recommend this product. If you want to avoid stains, probably the best bet is to leave the aluminum loaded antiperspirants and just use a normal deodorant.
The switch has a nice metal casing. (Credit: Zyxel. Fair use.)
I can’t say anything about how it performs with the OEM firmware since I installed OpenWRT as soon as I got it. Zyxel has made some complications to the installation process but it’s still quite doable. OpenWRT wiki has instructions. Once the firmware has been replaced, only sky it the limit of what (networking) you can do with it.
In deed, the fact that OpenWRT supports this switch (and it’s bigger cousins as well) is the biggest strength of GS1900-8. This is a good low-end switch for OpenWRT users.