Monday, April 30, 2012

Gnome Shell - Netbook Interface - Part I

I've decided I'm going to document my progress with the interface on this blog. In other words, there's going to be an awful lot of geek speak (sorry non-geeks) in the foreseeable future.

I'm also planning on playing with the frippery stuff. It's good. There are improvements that can be made which will, with any luck, teach me bits and pieces. I'll document that too.

So here goes. I'm a planner. I like planning out what I'm trying to accomplish. Normally this is done on scraps of paper or, even better, on a whiteboard. It helps me get things straight. So this post isn't going to contain ANY code. Rather, I'm going to put up my notes (though, because it's going on this blog, I've done it up in dia. Funnily enough, I now find it easier to use than Visio).

So the aim is to have an icon in the top left corner, that when it's clicked, brings up something similar to the Ubuntu netbook interface (discontinued just after Ubuntu 10.04). Primarily, it should show applications sorted by category.

Next, I'd like to add favourites back in. And finally, I think it'd be very cool to have a pane showing running applications and perhaps the option to also show information on each (CPU usage, memory usage etc.) in the same style as the rest of the interface.

As part of this interface, but as a separate extension, I want to get rid of the god awful bit that comes up next to the hot corner - the bit that shows the name and partial icon of the current active application and replace it with some sort of window picker. Having to go into a whole other pane or being forced to learn shortcuts (Think about the frustration of using a different OS from what you're used to. Changes in shortcut keys create a barrier to usage in which case, presenting options via the GUI lowers that point of entry). The alternative here is to create a Mac OSX style dock on the left hand side which ONLY shows running applications (rather than favourites as well) and have the favourites in a "quick launcher" style pane next to the "hot corner".

So - to the very beginning: the netbook interface.


This is basically it. The ST library doesn't actually have a VBox and HBox anymore (I'm talking GTK) though it helps to keep thinking in this way. The ST library instead has a Box widget which you can then set as horizontal or vertical.

Normally I would make a class that extends the properties and methods of a box - i.e. each category would be a box which contained an icon and label and an array of applications. And each application would be a box with also contained an icon and a label and also the information needed for launching an application.

There are problems with this approach.

  • Javascript doesn't actually have classes. Instead, it sees just about everything as an object and makes the distinction between single use and multi use objects. This is a bit of a paradigm screw for me. I just want to be able to make a template (class) and use it.
  • My first attempt of doing this crashed. The box has to be initialised somehow. This just wasn't working. Accessing any property of the box without initialising it crashed. I'll document what I did here in my next post on this subject.
Request for feedback - is this actually helping anyone out there? Is anyone likely to use any of these extensions when they're finally done?

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Issue of Media Content

Last year at a conference loads of people were talking about Pacific Fibre. A plan to introduce another link to the Internet to New Zealand - very importantly, one not controlled by Telecom. One of the things that came up was content. What would New Zealander's use it for? Think about it - we don't have great access to legal content in New Zealand.

Sky has a weird monopoly and aren't likely to open up their resources any time soon. TVNZ and TV3 both offer some streaming services but at terrible quality. Netflix (who are bringing back one of my favourite comedies for another season) isn't available in New Zealand yet. This is a familiar story.

Clare Curran, a New Zealand Labour Party politician, is drafting a private members bill to try and save TVNZ 7. TVNZ 7 is a non-profit, ad free, home grown channel which is getting it's funding pulled. I loved it when I was unemployed. Nowadays I find that it's very hard to find the things I want to watch. This is because it's owned by a commercial entity and so the programming is set to not compete with their own offerings. Still, I love it. There are some really interesting things on it.

The bit which I found interesting though was that the discussion on Clare Curren's blog. There was a comment about highbrow programming. As if being clever were a crime. Clever people shouldn't be taken into account when it comes to programming.

And if you watch television in New Zealand at the moment, this seems to be the general consensus. I find myself depressed at times in front of the television. Those really amazingly cool science programs of my youth, like Beakman's World, has been replaced by the constant "blowing stuff up" of Brainiacs (thankfully "Bang Goes The Theory" is in good taste if not sometimes over simplified). Jeopardy, Mastermind etc. have been replaced by Deal or No Deal (pick a number... go on... pick one) and Wheel of Fortune (pick a letter). And do I need mention "Knock Out"?!? Thursday nights are full of "reality" cop shows. It seems you can't turn on the tele without being bombarded by yet another over the rainbow "reality" tv show (I'm absolutely disgusted that NZ on Air funds are going towards "The GC").

I've been watching a lot of TED talks lately. Free online content. Legally available under a Creative Commons license. Where else do you go for informative television? And how do you know what it's legal? For example, The Open Source.TV looks promising but then, there's no notices about the licenses the content is released under and on the top right is a little Italian flag - click on it and a bunch of flags come up - these change the language. I'm not sure when the Italian flag came to mean English but there you go. Small things but they kind of mount up and have you wondering if it's really "open source".

There's a few bright lights in an otherwise dark world. The Yes Men released one of their "documentaries" - it's infotainment really - for free. This was done through a service called Vodo - a legal content p2p service. They've got quite a bit of content that looks worthwhile looking into. Oh - and brilliant for bucking the trend.

Anyone else got links to free legal, and hopefully, permissive (i.e. being able to download it to watch at your leisure rather than streaming) content?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gnome shell - Part 2

I haven't really written an awful lot on this. Time demands and all of that.

There's a few things which I'm finding kind of limiting with gnome-shell. I'm guessing by the sudden popularity of this blog (I'm suddenly getting around twice as many hits than I was before) lots of people are finding the same problems.

Documentation is a little thin on the ground.

There's the ST library - a wrapper around gtk. This is one of the very few things in gnome shell with some documentation. Unfortunately I'm finding it quite restrictive. I'll get to that a little later.

There's another really cool blog which is where I'm getting most of my information from. In this post though, I'm going to go with an itch that I had. I decided to "fix" one of the extensions that I installed.

There's a bunch of extensions under a rather odd name of "Frippery". They're a series of extensions to make gnome-shell look more like a gnome 2 desktop. Personally I've ALWAYS customized my desktop to my liking. I could never see the point of 2 bars for example and so would cram everything into one bar. Much like Gnome shell does.

Anyway, the extension I'm looking at is the applications menu. Below is a screenshot (stolen from another page due to not being able to figure out how to take a screenshot while the menu is open).

What's wrong with it? Notice the Other and Programming menus? On my system I have nothing installed under those categories and yet they still show up.

To download the source, click here.

I've kind of thrown it on a site (lack of a site really) of mine so that you can download it and follow along with the alterations I'm making.

So download the source and then extract it to ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions


You should now have a directory in there called:
Applications_Menu@rmy.pobox.com

So in my last gnome-shell post we learnt that extension.js contains all of the interesting bits (well okay - not ALL of the interesting bits but for today's purposes, it's the only file we're going to look at).

Truth be told, the extension feels like it's in a bit of a mess to me. There are bits taken from other files (those found in /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui). It's acknowledged when this has happened. The problem I have with it is that the programming styles feel ... inconsistent.


Open that file - this is where it's all going to get just a little hinky. I'm not going to provide you with line numbers or anything. Instead, it's probably better if you get to know the file.

The first thing to notice is that javascript doesn't have classes - not exactly. Instead everything is an object and the differentiation is made between single use objects and multiple use objects. Personally, I would rather define a class and use it as a template. Still, it's a preference rather than "the" correct way.

This file seems to kind of agree with me and has used prototypes - the closest thing that I've found classes in javascript. Look through the source. You'll find the ApplicationsMenuButton. Defined as:

function ApplicaitonsMenuButton() {
  this._init();
}


ApplicationsMenuButton.prototype = {
...


Look at the method names - scroll down and look for the right indentation. You'll see:
_init
_onButtonPress
_containerGetPreferredWidth
_containerGetPreferredHeight
_containerAllocate
_loadCategory
_buildSections
_buildMenu
_rebuildMenu
_showDialog
getSettings
setSettings
enable
disable


Educated guesses again - _buildSections sounds like the bit that will let us exclude categories we don't need to see.


_buildSections: function() {

   // Stolen from appDisplay.js
   var tree = this._appSystem.get_tree();
   var root = tree.get_root_directory();


   var iter = root.iter();
   var nextType;
   var i = 0;


   var sections = [];
   while ((nextType = iter.next()) != GMenu.TreeItemType.INVALID) {
       if (nextType == GMenu.TreeItemType.DIRECTORY) {
           var dir = iter.get_directory();
           if (dir.get_is_nodisplay())
               continue;
           var appList = [];
           this._loadCategory(dir, appList);
           sections.push({ name: dir.get_name(),
                           apps: appList });
           i++;
       }
    }


    return sections;
},

The bit that we're going to focus on is the "sections.push" bit. We're looking at a stack - you can push (put something onto) and pop (take things out of and retrieve the value) values, or in the case of javascript, objects into and out of a stack.

By this point we've got the bits of information we need. A category name and an application list (stored in appList). So to avoid showing the categories we don't want, we just have to change that piece of code to:

if (appList.length > 0){
    sections.push({ name: dir.get_name(),
                    apps: appList });
}

Reload gnome-shell (hit alt-F2 and type in 'r' followed by enter) and the applications menu will now not show those categories without applications associated to them.

The next bit I noticed was that my System menu isn't in alphabetical order. What a hassle... So we need to sort the appList before putting it into "sections". This is fairly trivial (though it took me about an hour to figure it out given that I'm new to javascript). That code above changes to:

if (appList.length > 0) {
    appList.sort( function(a,b) {return a.get_name()>b.get_name()} );
    sections.push({ name: dir.get_name(),
                    apps: appList });
}

I'm not done with this extension yet. I've been having a play with icons to see whether I'm able to get icons showing against the categories... Anyone know why this doesn't work?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching Vocabulary

Before reading this post, it's probably important to note that I am not an educator. I have an interest in it but I'm not doing in day in day out. So take this post with a great big grain of salt. It's an opinion.

I have this big thing about treating the symptoms. For example, the gut ache might just be an inflamed appendix... You treat the cause first.

So when I heard that a class was going to be focusing on vocabulary I was a little uneasy. Teaching vocabulary is boring. Learning it is probably worse. So how do I think it should be taught? It's a by-product. If you are passionate about the language then your vocabulary can't help but grow. Thinking about me at around these kids ages (7 or 8) I think one of my big influences was trying to understand Blackadder. I knew it to be funny. I didn't understand how.

Take this quote from Blackadder the Third:
I have come up with a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.
The language used isn't anything special. The only words in there that might be unknown to a 7 or 8 year old are the words "cunning" and "weasel". The beauty of the quote isn't in the language used but in how the language is used.

Describing something as being "stink as" is not as interesting as trying to describe it. Something along the lines of "it smelt like my friend's dirty socks after 3 days of him not changing them". This is something kids could get into and run away with.

By the age of 13 my writing was a wild mess of adjectives. Trying to paint a scene to the exclusion of anything else.

"The smile on the clerk's face seemed almost painted on - like a part of his uniform that he laundered and hung up in his wardrobe at the end of the day.", "The irony of the cold light playing against the golden scales of the fish in the tank in this place where death seemed to hang in the hair in the form of disinfectant seemed almost mocking." etc.

Reading in and of itself (in my opinion - don't forget the disclaimer at the beginning of this post) doesn't teach vocabulary. Spelling is an amazingly awful way of doing it. Unlocking something - figuring out a puzzle (I remember reading Shakespeare in my spare time when I left high school and looking up various bits of it. I didn't know what a "myrtle" was for example) - learning that you can convey messages in an amazingly interesting way leads to reading and an increasingly expanding vocabulary.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Geeks Dictating What We Want

I've long had a problem with the way the relationship between geek and user works. My frustration can be illustrated with Gmail's and Blogger's new Interfaces.

Sure they've given people plenty of warning. However, the new interfaces just don't work at all well with smaller (think 10" netbooks) screens. Gmail feels unnecessarily cluttered and busy and Blogger have compromised bits - mainly around size.

So there are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting the "old" interface. It works for certain people.

But there's this weird thing that Geeks dictate how people should be working. I find myself doing this at times. I believe, that to get a truly usable interface, we need to stop and ask people what they want. What works for them. Why something else might not work for them. And hell - offering the choice of multiple interfaces makes a huge difference.

This is happening on the desktop as well. As an indication of how dissatisfied people are with the Linux desktops, this blog suddenly became horribly popular again when I started writing about how to change it (I'm probably going to follow up on the gnome-shell post this week). People work one way, Ubuntu wants you to work their way and Gnome-Shell it turns out, wants you do things in their way. So while Linux offers a choice, the choices all feel.... well.... like someone just made a whole lot of arbitrary decisions rather than looking at how people work.

The question is, how do we get control of our machines back?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Intellectual Property

There's something really hinky going on in the world today. It's all wrapped up in the term "Intellectual Property". The Free Software Foundation implore people to split it up into it's three main elements - Copyright, Patents and Trademarks. The term intellectual property should probably be seen as a summation rather than a formal term. i.e. people know what you're talking about when you say it but it should probably be avoided when put on paper. It's slang...

Anyway, I was watching another TED talk where a guy talks about "big history". He describes humans as having a great advantage in that we're able to communicate ideas across generations. Mice and humans have brains but humans are able to convey those ideas to future generations, or, even, each other.

Whether that be via the spoken word (the Hindu's have a concept of the spoken word being used before texts - "Shruti" - which translates to "that which is heard"), text, audio, video, poetry (think the Iliard and the Odessey), music (the self-pitying tunes of Christina Perri and countless others, the romanticism of Choplin in both love and death that all communicate that we're not alone), we communicate.

It all has value. Even that dreadful poetry/short stories that I wrote as a 16 year old about feeling horribly alone (this seemed to be a theme - me writing about having entered my Uncles room just before he died of cancer described me walking down an empty cold hallway on my own just before the event, or a poem about me being horribly tormented by my liking a girl who liked a friend of mine and not being able to say anything etc.) has/had some sort of value. At the time, a few people commented on the fact that it was truthful (I got a 90% on the Uncle bit) and how they had felt the same at times.

I blame capitalism - how do we measure value? We seem to measure it in a detrimental way - i.e. how much it costs us rather than how much value it gives us. A friend of mine was saying that his uncle owned a fruit shop. He had apples in 2 separate bins. One bin was labelled at $2/kg, the other was labelled at $5/kg. There was no difference in the apples - they'd all come from the same source. So he asked his uncle, "Why have two bins of the same apples at different prices?".

His uncle responded "Some people want to pay $2/kg. Some people want to pay $5/kg".

So when we think about ideas, we see it as "How much did the idea cost us?". Capitalism goes one step further and says "How much value can we make from it?".

Disney. I see it as almost a swear word. Mickey Mouse was created in 1928. I'd hazard a guess and say that he's THE most recognised character of all time - more so than Santa Claus and, heaven forbid, Jesus Christ (think in terms of other religions - there are loads of people out there who don't celebrate Christmas or Christianity).

Shown in the chart below (sourced from Wikipedia), is a history of the term (time after death - there's a difference between "corporate authourship" and an authour) of copyright (in America). The 1998 Act, known as the "Sonny Bono Act" is also known as "the Mickey Mouse extension act".
I've commented on this before. Disney had a lot of success based on public domain works (works which the copyright had expired). Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 1937, Pinnocchio in 1940, Cinderella 1950, Alice in Wonderland 1951, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men 1952, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1954, Treasure Island 1959, Sleeping Beauty 1959, The Jungle Book 1967, Robin Hood 1973, The Little Mermaid 1989, Aladin 1992. I'm sure I've missed a couple.

The thing is, I don't think Disney has done anything wrong with these works. They did exactly what should be done with these works - they've made an interpretation of it and adapted it. For example, Alice in Wonderland is based upon both Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. And Aladdin is quite liberal (i.e. nothing like Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp) in it's interpretation but given the song "Arabian Nights" can be thought of as coming from book "One Thousand and One Nights" aka "Arabian Nights".

However, by doing their best to save their copyright on Mickey Mouse (it's interesting to note that Mickey Mouse is also trademarked), they're also restricting the works that become public domain and which can then be used to their own means.

Open Source actually relies on copyright. It only works because of copyright. The authour reserves the right to grant permission to copy works. Thus, if you publish under the GPL (General Public License), you're exercising your rights as a copyright owner.

If we are special because we're able to share ideas and improve upon them, then IP laws and the like create this interesting barrier which is counter to this idea. We're able to share ideas and improve upon them, but only after an influential company, such as Disney, have milked it for all it's worth.

As part of the Manaiakalani project, I was thanked for my input of my "Intellectual Property". I really don't see it as property. I learnt from others. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I've seen the quote around "I am what I am because of who we all are" - from the term/philosophy "Ubuntu" (not the Linux distribution - it's a word that's akin to the word "mana". i.e. the word conveys an idea for which there is no real English translation. The Linux distribution gets it's name from the philosophy. A bit like the end of American Gods by Neil Gaiman - "He is me but I am not him").

Post modernism in art points to the idea that there is nothing new to share. The only thing new is how we convey/present those ideas. So we take something, and we improve it or build on it, or change it in some way. This is how things progress. So by limiting ideas are we not limiting how we can progress?

Okay - so there's the counter argument that people have to eat. 95 years after they're dead... it's not enough that Disney has made cartloads of cash off Mickey Mouse - they've got to continue making money off that character. That has the feel of a stagnated business model to me. And okay - I would argue the benefit that Mickey Mouse is going to have to future knowledge. But just think about it. This includes scientific journals and the like. There's some really important stuff going on here.

Still... a free-trade deal with America...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Software For Schools

I can't help but think that the NZ Ministry of Education are missing out on some great opportunities. While they're busy with their "Single Sign On" initiative they seem to be ignoring the opportunity that Free/Libre/Open Source Software provides.

Take the Manaiakalani image. I think I might have mentioned in this blog before that I don't think Ubuntu is suitable in schools out of the box. Ubuntu makes assumptions which I don't think are appropriate.

  1. Social networking integrated on the desktop - sounds like a great idea until you have a look at the terms of service. The age, almost always above primary school age, makes it a bit of a minefield.
  2. Social networking integrated into various applications such as shotwell.
  3. The lack of controls on the install system. Classically, this wouldn't be a problem. Open source software is great for users having control over their own systems. It would be even better though if you could "blacklist" applications - i.e. remove the ability to install applications like dopewars or pornview (though this program isn't at all offensive - it's named just for a single joke. In slideshow mode it can be operated hands free).
Furthermore, there's the opportunity to customize the desktop to various different audiences. So your younger kids could get a more colourful desktop. Slightly older, something more learning (in those measurable areas that the National government like so much) orientated (I mention "measurable" as I just watched a TED video last night where the outcomes look less measurable but all the more real).

And then there's various infrastructure things. Take Plumi for example. It's basically an opensource youtube like infrastructure. Why would you need to run a separate service? Youtube has this really bad habit of advertising other videos after watching one of their videos - a lot of which don't take into age and suitability. So a lot of schools don't actually use youtube.

Plumi could be a really good solution - for storing New Zealand specific content for example. What does it lack? Currently it has no age classifications. Imagine if you could create class login's and define what videos those users can view? So a high school and primary school can't currently use the same server. While I'm not a big fan of walled gardens i.e. I would prefer if all of the content were open, I think this sort of server has it's place. Content isn't an issue any more (not for schools - content is still an issue for the Internet but I'll talk about that some other time). You can find the various bits you need. But even better, what if the students became the teachers? What if they produced the content instead? It wouldn't have to be made public - it could be made available within certain contexts - to kids in a particular class, kids over a certain age within the school, to the whole school, or, even possibly, to the whole world.

I think the MOE could have a role here - in helping customizing these tools to make them not only viable, but useful in New Zealand classrooms. Companies could then offer support on top of these things. Development wouldn't be huge but the effect it'd have would be massive.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gnome shell - Part 1

Geek speak alert. A lot of what you read here will be geek speak. You may experience some rolling of the eyes, sleepiness or a desire to use a spoon to scoop out your short term memory. These are all normal reactions to geek speak. You have been warned.

It's always worthwhile starting out any endeavour with a definition. I was helping someone help someone else. The kid in question, while extremely intelligent, suffers some concentration issues. We were half way through when I asked them "Have you defined the problem?". Turns out they hadn't...


What is Gnome Shell?

Up to actually seeing it and having a look at what's really going on, I thought it was simply another GUI interface. A move to make my computer look and behave like a touch screen interface (read: cellphone or tablet). I have different concerns for my desktop thus I haven't been at all enthusiastic about this whole new direction.

So here's how I would define it. Gnome shell is actually just a javascript interpreter. Don't believe me? Have a look inside /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui. All of those bits that I just don't like are defined in there. For example, the runDialog.js files defines internal commands - things that you can't run from the shell and are little bits of magic (i.e. you wouldn't know they were there unless you looked inside that file or read it on the Internet).

It stands that with a bit of time and working out the structure of the files in there (I would love to get rid of the overview mode for example as it doesn't really do anything for me) you should be able to replace or completely get rid of a lot of the things in there.

For now though, we can extend it with "extensions". Another creative computing term...


Getting Started

Type in at a bash prompt:

gnome-shell-extension-tool -c


This creates a folder and a few files in ~/.local/gnome-shell-extensions. Basically a HelloWorld program (for the non-programmers, the first program people write when learning to program is a "Hello World" program - basically, something that displays "Hello World" or "Hello, World").


It won't be enabled by default (at least from Gnome-shell 3.3). The easiest way to get it enabled is to use gnome-tweak-tool. I'm not sure if it's installed by default (besides which, this probably changes from distribution to distribution).


Debugging

But we'll get back to that. I'm always a little miffed that tutorials never actually start with debugging. What do you do when something goes wrong? Knowing that, you could get well ahead of any tutorial. So, here goes. I mentioned up there that runDialog defines some internal commands. To access it, hit Alt-F2. This brings up a run dialog. In there, type in "r" (without the quotes) and press enter.


This reloads gnome shell. If you're going to be making your own extension, you'll be doing this a lot. I have found that it doesn't always come up properly though I'm using a testing version of Ubuntu so it might just be that it's a case of using an unstable platform.


The other thing from the run dialog that you'll use a lot of is "lg". This stands for looking glass. I've never really used a debugger before, instead relying on console messages for my programming, so it's probably a hell of a lot more power than I think. The errors pane pretty much works as a console for me so that's all I need really.


So, in ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions you'll have a folder. Go into the folder and look for the file called "extension.js". This is the code for the extension. In the function "_showHello" add a line that says:

global.log("Hello World!");


Restart gnome-shell (Alt-F2 r) and click on the little icon on the top right (probably looks like a couple of cogs). If you look at the errors pane in looking glass, you'll find a line there that says "Hello World!".

If this doesn't work, I did notice that the case changed between gnome-shell 3.3 and 3.4. So you might need to do Global.log("Hello World!"); instead.


Finding Information

I haven't been able to find a great deal of documentation but I've found that with some carefully thought out commands, I can list out most of what I need. In looking glass, in the evaluator, type in the following:

for ( var item in Main ) { global.log(item) };

This lists all of the attributes and methods for Main in the error pane. A bit of an educated guess (i.e. if it starts with get, it gets a value, set sets a value etc.) and you can figure out quite a bit. You can get more information about a particular object in there by referencing it. i.e.

for ( var item in Main.panel.actor ) { global.log(item) };


It might help to, before typing this command, to type in:

global.log("");

just to separate out the listings.

In the next gnome-shell post, I'll probably list out some of the documentation that I have found.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Future of the Desktop

I can't describe quite how excited I am about discovering that gnome shell is customizable. This is something that no other OS/Interface has been able to do. Not to this extent.

And it makes this little niche a little more interesting. How do I describe what I do? I tell people I'm a "Consistent Operating Environment Engineer". The emphasis in there is probably in the wrong place. I don't care much about the consistency but rather, am more concerned about making computing an experience for the user. So a discovery like this...

There is a little bit of a barrier - I've never learned JavaScript. The idea is pretty new and susceptible to change. But ultimately, for someone looking to do some really amazing things on their desktops or are supporting a number of users who work in particular ways, this is the most amazingly cool direction for any desktop to take. It kind of puts the shell back into gnome shell. I am considering putting my notes up on my blog (once I start making notes) so this blog could have some useful content (heaven forbid).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Desktops

For the last few months I've been mumbling about the new styles of desktops. Ubuntu has moved on to Unity (I still think this is a HUGE mistake). Gnome has moved on. KDE moved on ages ago. Even Windows 8 is sporting an all new desktop style.

Previously my complaint has been that I don't want my computer to be treated like a lowly tablet/cell phone device. Large icons and the like aren't really what I'm after. I like things to be categorised.

Then yesterday I started looking at the various options. Every single one of them just yelled out "we're not an out of the box experience!". There's been quite a bit of discussion on the Linux lists about it. Loads of people sharing hints about the various uses of the super (windows) key. Personally I don't like things to be that magic. If you're going to go graphical, then everything should be accessible in a graphical way.

Anyway, by far, the worst of the choices out there seems to be Unity. It has no customization options. It's a dead end if you ask me. In fact, it's already become a bit of a joke at work.
"It's got to be better than Unity"
"Yeah... but if that's what you're setting your standards to, you're not saying much for it"
The new desktops make me think of the old quick launch bar in Windows 98 in favour of the start button. I always disabled the quick launch bar. I found it horribly unwieldy. Even more so than the Start button (having to know the vendors of a particular piece of software before being able to access the application).


Gnome shell to the rescue. By default, it's just plain awful.

The hot corner? Definitely needs to go. My biggest gripe with it is that it changes the state of the desktop. Suddenly your shortcut keys don't work. I still don't see what's so wrong with having categorized applications either. I mean, it's suited us up till now hasn't it?

It turns out that Gnome 3 does have options by way of extensions. And these are written in javascript... If you're like me, you could make it a bit more old fashioned. Disable the hot-spot. Throw in an applications menu.

What does this really mean? The Ubuntu Netbook Interface is no longer developed/maintained. But it doesn't need to be. It turns out we could have the ease of that interface built on top of Gnome3/Gnome-shell.

The question is, do I continue to use Ubuntu? I can get rid of Unity and put in Gnome-shell. But then, it does feel as if they're going out of their way to make it difficult to customize the system. It kind of reminds of me this story I read today - the line
"The desktop is wrong! None of the icons are in the right place!"
Can Ubuntu be considered a difficult personality?

I've just been giving the latest beta version of Ubuntu a try. I find it a little ironic that the application responsible for reporting crashes kept crashing. I've removed it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Talking About the Weather

I'm sitting here watching the news and again it hasn't failed to disappoint.

I feel I should be annoyed that the television is trying to make small talk with me:
"So... about that weather then... Pretty nice ain't it?"

It's just not news. Shame on TV3 News. I hate to watch One News as I'm sure it'd have me wondering about the value of watching the news.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Surcharges

New Zealand employment laws around Public Holidays got a rehash a few years ago.

The changes saw that employees had to get paid time and a half and a day in lieu. There really wasn't a norm before then. I signed a contract that had me earning 3 times my normal pay if I had to work on a public holiday (of course, this NEVER happened. It wasn't likely to ever happen).

When this happened, cafes and restaurants started to charge a 15% surcharge on public holidays.

Imagine it... they have a choice to open their doors or not open their doors. The cost of opening their doors is that they have to pay extra for the employees. The risk of not opening their doors is that they lose potential trade.

If the cost of opening their doors is outweighed by the potential trade, then surely, the cost of those employees has already been taken into account. Otherwise, it'd be a no-brainer. Don't bother opening the doors. Go to the beach instead.

It's the cost of doing business. So then, why should they slap on an extra 15% on top?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Marmite

For a bit of background, check out this.

Dear Marmite lovers,

Marmite might be disappearing off our shelves for a little while. But don't fear. It's essentially a brand for a particular product. While others may say Vegemite (and let's face it, the difference there is less than the difference between Pepsi and Coke), but there's also Promite, Cenovis and AussieMite.

In fact, even Marmite might make a suitable replacement. It's also produced in the U.K. and South Africa.

So for those of you spending stupid amounts of money on TradeMe - stop trying to defend a brand. While it's unfortunate Sanitarium can no longer produce Marmite (at the moment), it's really not as unique as they'd have you believe.

Regards,
The sane people of this world.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Punked?

I can't help but wonder if this is an April Fools joke. Suddenly a whole lot of billboards have gone up advertising "Battleship". Battleship? The movie?!?! Did they manage to fit in the line "You sunk my battleship!"? And just to prove it's real (in case you haven't seen the billboards), here's the proof - imdb and the official trailer. Disclaimer: I haven't actually read the synopsis or watched the trailer. I love the tagline though:

THE BATTLE FOR EARTH BEGINS AT SEA

Given that it's a hell of an expense to go through for April Fool's, I'm thinking this might, scaringly, be real.

I can't help but wonder if Mine Sweeper: the movie is all that far fetched....


Just for completeness... there was a movie released back in 1943 called Minesweeper - it pre-dates the game by 38 years. Perhaps the game was based on the movie...

Amendment
I was walking past the billboard again today when I noticed that the Battleship movie has been brought to you by Hasbro... Further shown on this site. Holy crapballs on toast. Not only could this movie be real but it might actually be based upon the board game.

If ever I'm in a position where it's the choice of watching it or gouging out my eye balls of the fun of it I think I could live without eyeballs.