I found a text file named TIL.md lying around on my computer, with one section dated 17th February 2016. Apparently I’d planned to keep a log of the weird or interesting computer things I learned each day, but forgot after a day. I’d also forgotten all the facts in the file and was surprised afresh. Maybe you’ll be surprised too:
- Windows’ shell and user interface do not support filenames with trailing spaces, so if you have a directory called worstever.christmas˽ (where ˽ represents a space) on your Unix fileserver, and serve it to Windows over SMB, you’ll see a filename like CQHNYI~0. I think this is the DOS-style 8.3 compatibility filename but I’m not sure where it gets generated in this case – Samba?
- TIFF files can contain multiple images.
- If you have a multi-subfile TIFF, multi.tiff, and run convert multi.tiff multi.jpeg, you will not get back a file called multi.jpeg; convert will silently assume you meant convert multi.tiff multi-%d.jpeg and give you back multi-0.jpeg, multi-1.jpeg, etc.
For some context: at the time, I was trying to work out why a script that imported a few tens of thousands of photographs into pan.do/ra – which doesn’t like TIFFs – had skipped some photographs, and imported others as a blank white rectangle; and why a Windows application pointed at the same fileserver showed a different number of photographs again. This was also the first time I encountered an inadvertent homoglyph attack: x.jpg and х.jpg are indistinguishable in most fonts.
Yesterday was my last day at Collabora. It’s been a fun five years of working with smart and friendly people (the best kind) on interesting problems. I’ve learnt a lot, created many things I’m proud to have been a part of, and made a lot of friends all over the globe; and now I’ve decided to take a break, then try my hand at something different.
I think it’s notable that quite a few of those smart and friendly people I’m thinking of were neither colleagues nor clients. It’s been a privilege to work predominantly in the open, alongside others with the shared goal of advancing the causes of free software, open platforms and open communication systems. I’m not planning to disappear from the GNOME community any time soon, so I’m looking forward to running into a lot of familiar names, faces and IRC nicks in the future.
Thanks to Rob, Philippe and everyone I’ve worked with at Collabora over the last half-decade. It’s been great! (Oh, hey, also, Collabora is hiring. I’d recommend working there. Maybe they’ll get an application from Guybrush soon…)
I think I’ve just about caught up on sleep, four days after getting back from A Coruña. This year’s GUADEC was pretty great. One highlight was the bumper crop of interns’ lightning talks. In general, I’m a huge fan of the lightning talk format, because good talks are just as good when they’re three minutes long, and bad talks are only three minutes long. In this session, I didn’t have to invoke that second clause: the quality was really consistently high, the speakers had prepared well, and the talks kept me interested for the duration. Change-overs were smooth, and a few truncated-slide hiccups didn’t trip anyone up. It’s great to see so many people excited about contributing in all manner of ways. Congratulations all round.
🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙 🐙
Michael Meeks informed and amused as ever. Discussion about Telepathy’s historically patchy support for IRC during the Empathy BOF pushed me into a drive-by release of the IRC backend. Adam Dingle and Jim Nelson’s keynote also stood out—free software business models are a tricky matter, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts on sustaining the dream. I learnt a lot from Owen’s talk on smooth animations, and particularly enjoyed the un-dramatic reveal in Neil and Robert’s talk on Wayland-ifying the Shell, where they switched Pinpoint out of fullscreen to reveal their demo: an apparently-unremarkable Gnome Shell running both X and Wayland applications, including the presentation itself.
Outside the conference itself, my poor scheduling meant I missed the GNOME OS BOF, to my chagrin, in favour of spending a beautiful day exploring A Coruña. I fell into my usual trap of trying to visit museums on Monday (when they are generally closed), but the Torre de Hércules happened to be both open and free. Well worth a visit, if you’re ever there.
For me, chatting to old and new friends about GNOME, music, and everything in between are the best part of GUADEC, and this year was no exception. Of course, over the week I also saw a lot of Pulpo a la Gallega. I felt a bit like this cat in the third panel.
Once upon a time, three intrepid individuals made Empathy publish your location to your contacts, and show your contacts’ locations on a map. Today, I noticed that the Location tab is missing from Preferences—I guess Debian’s Empathy is built without GeoClue support for some reason—and as a result the map looks rather forlorn, what with none of my contacts publishing their location:
A map is an obvious demo to build, but I don’t think it’s that useful (even when it had more than zero contacts on it, I never looked at it). So what would be more useful? For starters, here’s some “relevant art” from Skype, showing a contact’s local time in their tooltip:
Adding that to Empathy might be a useful first step. But unlike Skype, it’s possible to use this information outside the IM app. So, if I spend a lot of time chatting to friends in Melbourne and New York, why not automatically add those timezones to GNOME Clocks? (The last two mock-ups in that section look particularly bare—perhaps the names of some contacts could show up in the space where “local time” does for Boston.)
For this to be useful, of course, someone would have to fix the publishing of location information in the first place. But if fixing it produced a more compelling feature than a map, it would not be such a thankless task.
I have a lot of IM accounts. I often want to turn groups of them on and off: for instance, when I’m not at work I turn off my Collabora accounts, and when testing IM-related stuff I need to turn on my test accounts. I got bored of finding the Messaging and VoIP Accounts window, searching for my work accounts, clicking on each one in turn and toggling them on and off, so I wrote a little GNOME Shell extension which gives you little switches in your panel to enable and disable (groups of) accounts.
Out of the box it just shows you one slider per account; and it comes with a really terrible application for configuring groups. You can get it from GitHub. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t conform to the approval requirements for extensions.gnome.org so it’s not available there; and the configuration application could really use some love and caring. But it does work! If you like it, hooray; if you don’t, I’d love a patch. (Pre-emptively: if it doesn’t work on 3.4, that’s probably because I’m on 3.2, and I’d love a patch.)
I spent most of last week holed up in a meeting room at Collabora Towers with Michael Meeks (of SUSE) and Eike Rathke (of Red Hat), working on a prototype of collaborative spreadsheet editing in LibreOffice Calc, using Telepathy tubes to start editing sessions with your IM contacts. Michael’s got a much more extensive and eloquoent post about where we got to, and here’s a quick screencast of the prototype in action!
My new adventure at Collabora involves Wayland, like all the cool kids. I was distraught to learn that, since Wayland only provides clients with pointer position information to the surface currently under the pointer, and only relative to that surface, xeyes no longer works. We’ll see about that…
Watch a phone-cam video of the eyes in action in your choice of WebM or freedom-hating H.264! (I apologise for the shakes, but it yielded smoother results than the GNOME Shell screencast thing.)
The pointer’s position is provided to clients which request it, relative to a surface of their choosing. Thanks to the way surface transformations work in Weston, the eyes still work when rotated without any further effort:
Ready for the desktop!
Joking aside, I don’t really expect my branch to be merged any time soon, not least because it’s very much a proof-of-concept and is pretty easy to break. But it was a useful exercise in learning my way around the Wayland and Weston code-bases. The work involved was actually pretty small in the end:
- Implement a pair of eyes which only work when the cursor is over them;
- Define a protocol extension allowing clients to ask to track the pointer position relative to a surface;
- Plumb it into the compositor and client.
Now onto something a little more useful…
Alas, Evan Martin’s excellent series of blog posts from the Chrome-on-Linux salt mines has come to an end. His sabbatical apparently didn’t relieve his general malaise, which he explains thusly:
Before we’d jokingly say “year of Linux on the desktop!” and laugh about how it would never happen, but my smiles had become bitter. A short way to put it is that writing high-quality software is not really a goal of the platform; stuff that doesn’t matter like continuously rewriting atop ever-changing platforms is. The scrappiness and free software spirit is what makes me love Linux as a hacker but I recognize now a deeper doom, that it will only ever broadly succeed by removing that spirit (e.g. Android).
I disagree that “writing high-quality software is not really a goal of the platform”, but there is an argument to be made that incrementally developing a high-quality platform (to enable writing high-quality software) makes life harder for third-party developers. It’s easy for free desktop developers—myself included—to underestimate the impact that tweaking the platform has on others, even if the changes make the platform more coherent in the long term. A common justification for churn is “the work is done by volunteers who wouldn’t necessarily spend their time on other things instead of this”, but that tends to ignore the other volunteers, caught up in dealing with unrelated changes, who would rather spend their time on other things.
This is not to say that platform-wide changes should be avoided at all cost: one of the great merits of the free software ecosystem is that it’s possible to make such changes. Nor am I claiming that volunteers cleaning up stagnant code bases is to be discouraged—quite the opposite. Nor is this an anti-GNOME 3 post, lest I be misinterpreted as thinking that Gtk+ 3, GObject Introspection and other leaps forward were a mistake. But taking advantage of this excellent new technology in applications does carry a cost in the short term.
Picture the scene. You’re painstakingly composing a lengthy message…
…when you manage to close the tab by accident (maybe you hit Ctrl-W after too many years using a terminal? or maybe you thought your browser was focused?). You hammer your keyboard in frustration: your beautiful prose is gone forever. But wait! What’s this lurking in the Tabs menu?
Not only does it reopen the tab you just closed, but the message you were composing is remembered, too. Crisis averted!
The keyboard shortcut is Shift-Ctrl-T, just like in many web browsers (which inspired this feature). As a secret bonus feature, the keyboard shortcut works in the contact list, too, to rescue you when you’ve closed the very last tab by accident. Empathy remembers the last few tabs, not just the most recent.
Of course, if you don’t know the super-secret contact list shortcut, you can go find the contact in your contact list again: Empathy should still have remembered the message you were typing. (Right now it doesn’t persist across sessions; a patch to add that would be most welcome!)
Undo Close Tab has been around for a while; remembering the half-written message was added in Empathy 3.1.2, so it’s coming soon to a GNOME 3.2 near you! Thanks, Jonny.
I spent the week in humid, rainy Berlin for the Desktop Summit. I particularly enjoyed Sunday’s keynotes by Claire Rowland and Nick Richards, not to mention the many great talks and discussions. It’s always fun to catch up with old friends (not to mention my coworkers at Collabora, very few of whom I see regularly), and to meet some new (to me, at least) faces, including João Paulo, whose Summer of Code project—implementing OTR in Telepathy—I have the pleasure of mentoring. I gave a talk of my very own, which apparently is one of the few videos available so far. I haven’t dared watch it yet. I hope to make the promised new release of Bustle this coming week.
Later in the week, the BoFs on D-Bus and on GNOME IM integration were both very productive. Hylke and Andreas’s input was very useful in the latter, as was the presence of David and George of KDE-Telepathy fame: they’re solving (and hitting) a lot of the same issues as are found in GNOME, so we had some true cross-desktop pooling of ideas and solutions. Thanks to everyone!
The journey back on Friday evening was smooth—at least until we hit Stansted, where of course there was an inexplicable zoo of thousands of travellers queueing for passport control. (Not pictured: the thousands more behind me.) And of course, what better to do after a week at a conference than to attend another two-day hackathon at Homerton …
CamHac is the first Haskell hackathon I’ve attended. It’s a very welcoming community, full of interesting people and projects. I swapped Vim tips, shoulder-surfed some of the internals of GHCi, chatted about open data and web server frameworks with some Silk folks, learnt about the internals of fast output stream libraries, and otherwise hacked on a long-dormant GObject introspection-based binding generator. It took a while for me to catch up with Daf’s work to date; I warmed up by generating code for enums and flags, and then started reworking the code generator to use haskell-src-exts’s AST and pretty-printer. Interesting stuff.