The GtkSwitch problem

it’s amazing that people find the on/off switch *that* confusing. I wonder how do they turn on and off the lights in their houses @ebassi

Dear GNOME designers,

When you came up with the original idea of GtkSwitch (or looked at iOS and thought “ooh, shiny”, I don’t blame you), you overlooked the problem of localization. Just as today’s kids have no idea what a floppy is, most of us, Europeans, have no idea what device this widget represents and how it is supposed to work.

What you see:

GtkSwitch widget

What you think:

Light switch in the bathroom
Light switch in the bathroom by anotherpioneer, on Flickr (cc) BY-NC

What you really think: a freakin’ light switch!

For reference, here’s a light switch we use in Europe:

240720081083 by jakub.szestowicki, on Flickr (cc) BY-SA

Pressing the top turns the lights on, pressing the bottom turns them off. The ends are unlabelled.

The only device that I could find that matches GNOME’s current behavior for the GtkSwitch is the voltage switch on a PSU. See the red part. You slide it with a flat screwdriver to tell the PSU if the input voltage is 115V or 230V (which, again, is a standard here in Europe):

Power-Supply-noswitch by Kevin Byrom, on Flickr (cc) BY-SA

Update: apparently none of this is true¹ and the widget is perfect. Therefore I stand corrected. Hats off then and bonus points for the humor in the implementation. “How do I turn it OFF?” “It’s easy, just click and drag it all the way to where it says ON.”

¹ As proved by @ebassi: one, two, three.

Procedural wallpapers?

Here’s an idea for GNOME 3.x. Instead of showing a static wallpaper, start treating the wallpaper as an infinite plane. Basically instead of using a JPEG or PNG file as input, build a library that given a rectangle returns the image data (raster or even better vector) corresponding to the surface it covers. As monitors and workspaces come and go, the shell can expand and contract the background, calling the library as needed to build the missing parts.

The possibilities are endless. The easiest implementation is an infinitely tiled texture. Another could be a photo wall with randomly rotated and scaled faux-polaroid versions of your Pictures. Or take pre-defined sets of vector cliparts as input. Whatever is visually pleasant and results in a background unique enough to give subtle hints as to the current position on the plane. By “learning” the wallpaper, the user will subconsciously know where he is and where his windows are.

Add parallax scrolling. When switching to the next workspace, only scroll the wallpaper by a fraction of the size of the workspace. Say 50%. This will add to the perception of depth (wallpaper being non-interactive) while the uniqueness of procedurally generated workspace will give hints about both the current position in the workspace stack and the contents of the adjacent workspaces (as they share parts of the background with the current one).


Ambient music daemon?

Disclaimer: before you call me a freak, keep in mind I do know none of this is possible. At least not now and not without hacking half of the desktop. Nonetheless it was an awesome dream.

That’s right, I’m blogging about my dream from last night. Seriously. And it sure was an awesome dream too!

Imagine a daemon playing a number of tracks in perfect sync. Think old trackers here (ah, the times of .MOD, .S3M, .IT, .XM etc.) with — say — 8 tracks, all muted for now.

Now teach the little daemon in your head how to track window focus. Have it know if you’re editing a file or if you’re doing voodoo in your terminal. Make it whistle different tracks depending on what is happening at the moment. What I mean is make it slowly fade the current track into the next one.

Now teach your little pet how to track long running background tasks. Make it whistle an additional tune while you’re burning a CD, compiling a kernel or downloading a large file. So if you have a long lasting operation, you have 2 tracks playing at the same time.

Now add notification icons. Say having a non-dismissed notification adds an additional track that slowly fades in when the first icon appears and slowly fades out as the last icon goes.

Like it? I thought it was an awesome dream. And an awesome idea too. Sort of how LittleBigPlanet’s dynamic music tracks work.

Once again on RMS and sexism

Guys and girls, stop picking on non-technical aspects of RMS‘s recent speech, pretty please. We’re the ones who fight for freedom every day. Let’s try to give people the freedom of speech even if we think they are wrong.

I do agree that RMS is not the voice of us all. In fact during recent years I’ve found myself in disagreement with his statements just as often as I appreciated the rest of his talks. I also don’t see Mono as a threat to any of us (and especially not us here in Europe).

Now to the sexism. While RMS is certainly not the most polite person on Earth, girls and ladies among the crowd should be perfectly capable of complaining themselves if they see fit. You know what is sexist? Treating all the women among us as a weaker sex. As another species. Now that’s sexism. It sure makes one feel special. But special as in that cute retarded kid next door everyone says hi to.

We’re software engineers, artists and writers, not wrestlers. Girls do know how to use words and if you want them to feel at home, let them protect that home.

And for $deity‘s sake, RMS is not an effing pope. You can just e-mail him directly with your complaints, you don’t have to start a public campaign against him. If all fails you can just not invite him next year or something.

Peace 🙂

Update: Oh, Christian is right too.

How to determine the first day of week

Today we got a report for bug #554256 in Hamster. The first day of week was reported as Sunday for some locales that certainly used Monday. I did some research and found that before Hamster relied on a simple check to determine the result:

  • Run locale first_weekday (by the way, we have to use os.popen here as these don’t seem to be accessible from Python)
  • If the result is 1, use Sunday, else use Monday (literally, it would treat 2 and 6 as Monday)

That seemed to work at least for some countries but was wrong which became apparent when more people started using Hamster (and to put myself in shame: I didn’t notice this before but it was also broken for me). It seems the correct version is:

  • Run locale first_weekday week-1stday
  • Parse week-1stday as date with %Y%m%d
  • Move the result first_weekday - 1 days forward
  • Check the weekday of the result


While locale manual pages are horribly outdated, all web searches point to week-1stday as the beginning of the first week of tracked Unix time. first_weekday is the 1-based offset of that week’s start day. It seems it’s only there so you can specify first_weekday=2 and first_workday=1 for the rare cases where working days span across two weeks.

Please do correct me if this is wrong as all of the above are assumptions based on glibc code and Google results. Hope the above helps someone in the future.

Update: vuntz was kind enough to point me to gtkcalendar.c, part of GTK+. It does the same thing described above so it seems the method is correct.

Happy hamsters

Project Hamster is now part of GNOME! Along with Empathy and some blessed external dependencies. Do not underestimate them however for they are some truly powerful libs including libcanberra, Clutter, Conduit and PolicyKit.

Some new pains are now (temporarily) part of my life. As PH’s father, Toms, is away I am the one responsible for the SVN migration, releasing 2.23.6 and cooperating with i18n and a11y teams. I think we should start by making the stats accessible but I’ll concentrate on moving to GNOME infrastructure for now. Hope the rest of the team gets their SVN accounts up and running soon.

As for Empathy, great stuff. If you like it as much as I do, you can help me convince Xavier to make it a bit prettier and more readable. Hooray for lobbying!

Edit: hamster-applet 2.23.6 is out, following the upcoming GNOME 2.23.6 release.

Launchpad WTF

PLD Linux finally moved to the awesomeness called Launchpad. Back in April it was a beautiful green site with a slick interface. Now we get an acid-propelled trip to the Mac OS 9 era:

PLD Linux Distribution in Launchpad

Seriously, WTF is the blue bar? The ugliest tabs ever. And where did the action box go? Now you can probably get used to it but here comes the beta:

PLD Linux Distribution in Launchpad beta

Guys, the 1995 is calling and wants to have its sites back. WTF? It’s not only ugly, what the hell happened to all the navigation? Hope it never makes it into production. Please, I can has the green Launchpad? Kthxbye.

Improved one canvas workflow

Jimmac’s post got me thinking. His script did the job for a single icon. Why not improve upon it to allow multiple icons sharing a single SVG file? Immediately decided to give it a go and after a few iterations the result works as follows:

  1. You start by creating a template SVG.
  2. For each icon (not size) you create a layer and set its name to context/icon-name. You can use a different syntax but it has to contain at least one slash. The rest of the layers are treated as drawing aids.
  3. For each layer you create a sublayer and give it a name starting with plate. Inkscape requires you to have distinct layer labels so a simple plate won’t do for multiple icons but you are free to use names such as plate for foo.
  4. The plate consists of a set of rectangles. Each rectangle will result in a separate PNG and the size is taken verbatim from the rectangles (so make sure you don’t end up with ten decimal places in width or height).
  5. The plate also needs two text objects: one with label set to context and one with label set to icon-name. The text you put there is used to create the directory structure.
  6. Save your template to a directory called svg. Make sure you hide the plate layers before saving.
  7. Download the Split Icons script.
  8. Run the script. If you pass a path (or several paths), it will only process the files from the command line. If you don’t pass anything, it will process the whole svg directory.
  9. Draw art!

Here’s a template example.

PS: b.g.o upload sucks. It will only accept .gz files and then will strip the dot from the original extension.

Update: updated the script to handle the new format invented by jimmac. See the example above for details.

To git or not to git

These days most of the buzz is around choosing an appropriate DVCS for GNOME. Like, dude, what the hell?

It’s not like we’re choosing between CVS and SVN where one is the other plus cool features minus broken design. Today we should concentrate on using the most widely adopted DVCS, not on one with the cutest syntax. Features across the board are actually pretty much the same, the rest is just sugar coating.

Just take git and wrap it, add plugins, make it look like Bizarre or Peculiar. We certainly don’t want to tell new contributors to download and build 20+ source control tools just to build a single GNOME app from trunk. I can tell you for sure most of the devs want to get stuff done and they don’t give a poo about repository storage formats. We want to be able to easily commit changes and generate diffs, having a bunch of PostIt notes with various DVCS incantations is far from desired.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Poland
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Poland.