Chat account group Shell extension

I have a lot of IM accounts1. 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.

Chat account groups menu screenshot

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 GitHub2. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t conform to the approval requirements for 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.)

  1. 32, since you ask []
  2. “rah rah why GitHub?” Call it an experiment. []

If you like a tool, never look at its headers.

Following hot on the heels of this astonishing header from Boost, here are some excerpts from the module defining tuples in the Glasgow Haskell Compiler 7.4.1:

data (,) a b = (,) a b
    deriving Generic
data (,,) a b c = (,,) a b c
    deriving Generic

(If you can’t read Haskell: (,) a b is another notation for (a, b). This defines types for two- and three-element tuples, with a default implementation of the Generic interface.) Okay so far? The file proceeds to define 4-tuples, 5-tuples, and so on until we get to the 8-tuple definition:

data (,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h = (,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h
    -- deriving Generic

Surprise commented-out deriving clause! But it’s all plain sailing from here… until we get to 63-tuples:

data (,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z a_ b_ c_ d_ e_ f_ g_ h_ i_ j_ k_ l_ m_ n_ o_ p_ q_ r_ s_ t_ u_ v_ w_ x_ y_ z_ a__ b__ c__ d__ e__ f__ g__ h__ i__ j__
 = (,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z a_ b_ c_ d_ e_ f_ g_ h_ i_ j_ k_ l_ m_ n_ o_ p_ q_ r_ s_ t_ u_ v_ w_ x_ y_ z_ a__ b__ c__ d__ e__ f__ g__ h__ i__ j__
    -- deriving Generic
{- Manuel says: Including one more declaration gives a segmentation fault.
data (,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z a_ b_ c_ d_ e_ f_ g_ h_ i_ j_ k_ l_ m_ n_ o_ p_ q_ r_ s_ t_ u_ v_ w_ x_ y_ z_ a__ b__ c__ d__ e__ f__ g__ h__ i__ j__ k__
 = (,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,) a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z a_ b_ c_ d_ e_ f_ g_ h_ i_ j_ k_ l_ m_ n_ o_ p_ q_ r_ s_ t_ u_ v_ w_ x_ y_ z_ a__ b__ c__ d__ e__ f__ g__ h__ i__ j__ k__

…followed by commented-out definitions of everything up to 100-tuples.

Looking around Wayland

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…

A bunch of eyes following the mouse in Weston

Watch a phone-cam video of the eyes in action1 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:

A bunch of ROTATED eyes following the mouse in Weston

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…

  1. with unintentional soundtrack by Marco, Jo and Daniel []

The end of Chromium Notes

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.

Bustle 0.4.0: push button, receive D-Bus traffic

Breaking with the “every six months or so maybe” release tradition, here’s the second Bustle release of the month. What’s the new hotness this time? You can record D-Bus traffic by just clicking File → New, and watch the diagram being drawn before your very eyes. After years of on-off development, Bustle can finally liberate you from needing to open a terminal to monitor D-Bus traffic1. Here’s a super-brief video tour.

Bustle 0.4.0 screenshot

Grab it for x86_64 or i486 today! Unlike the previous release, these work on both Debian and Fedora and have a strong change of working on pretty much anything with a modern-ish Glib and Gtk+22. (Thanks to my fellow Collaboran Guillaume for testing these tarballs, and to Scott Tsai for his suggestion.) Source and so on at the usual location.

Today’s surprising Bustle-assisted observation is that switching to and from the Shell overview causes the Shell to retrieve /desktop/gnome/shell/windows/button_layout from GConf 29 times. (Presumably that number is proportional to the number of windows I have open?) This was extremely useful for testing the live-logging feature, but is perhaps not ideal in many other ways.

  1. “Occupy dbus-monitor” is arguably an unexciting slogan. []
  2. …inasmuch as any version of Gtk+2 can be called “modern”, that is. []

Bustle 0.3.1 provides 50% of your daily allowance of D-Bus message bodies

It’s a cold evening here in Cambridge, but I’m being kept warm at Collabora Towers, sipping a revitalizing mug of fresh applicative functor soup.

A mere five months after I demoed its features at the Desktop Summit in Berlin, here’s Bustle 0.3.1. Whereas previous versions of Bustle only recorded and showed you the names, senders and destinations of D-Bus messages, this version also records and shows you the contents of the messages.

Screenshot of Bustle 0.3.1

The statistics page also takes advantage of this new information: you can now get statistics about the sizes of messages in the log. Grab your copy today from the usual location. Beside the source, I’ve also uploaded a 64-bit binary tarball to save you some compilation time. Give me a shout if you have trouble with it. 32-bit version to follow when I get my chroots straightened out.

I have good news and bad news. Good news: here’s a 32-bit binary tarball. Bad news: seems like Debian and Fedora have differently-sonamed libpcaps. Why is distributing software so tedious?

Yesod web application dependencies

I have been experimenting with using Yesod to throw together a web application or two. My experience so far has been broadly positive—if you like computers to check things for you, I recommend it.1 That said, watching the full chain of dependencies fly past was moderately entertaining:2


An excellent parser-combinator library, widely imitated. This wouldn’t be funny, except…


Another excellent parser-combinator library, inspired by parsec.


This defines a bunch of Unicode aliases for standard functions with boring ASCII names. Why write:

x `elem` xs

when you could write:

x ∈ xs


utf8-light- and utf8-string-0.3.7

Two UTF-8 encoding libraries!


“In mathematics, a semigroup is an algebraic structure consisting of a set together with an associative binary operation. A semigroup generalizes a monoid in that there might not exist an identity element. It also (originally) generalized a group (a monoid with all inverses) to a type where every element did not have to have an inverse, thus the name semigroup.”

  1. assuming you like deciphering compiler error messages when the computer says no, that is []
  2. for a quiet Wednesday morning… []

My favourite Empathy feature no-one knows about

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.