Category: Uncategorized

Plasma 5.5 Review


For those who haven’t seen it already, I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve been working with Michael Larabel over at Phoronix to post an in-depth review of Plasma 5.5.

You can read it here:
KDE Plasma 5.5: The Quintessential 2016 Review

I gotta hand it to every KDE contributor; I call this review comprehensive but there’s an incredible amount of information I could not cover in a sane article, and it could have easily been twice that length while still failing to hit every feature.

From me to everyone; you’ve all been knocking it out of the park, great work, and thank you. I’m looking forward to what the KDE community brings in 2016!

Google Deep Dream ruins food forever.

Google Deep Dream is an interesting piece of AI software which looks for patterns in pictures, much like humans may look for patterns in clouds. Deep Dream has been trained to find a few things, like eyes, animals, arches, pagodas, and the most fascinating part is that Deep Dream can also spit out what it “saw”. Then Google opened Deep Dream to the public and people started loading tonnes of images into the system, and when you combine food with Deep Dream it turns into the stuff of nightmares.

RUN NOW OR FOREVER RUIN FOOD FOREVER! Here’s pictures of food turned to ghoulish nightmare-fuel courtesy of Deep Dream;

Nope. NOPE. Great start. Never eating takeout again. At least nothing bad can happen to the humble doughnut.

Duncan Nicoll, thank you. Via Ibitimes

Duncan Nicoll, thank you. Via Ibitimes

GREAT. FANTASTIC. I didn’t like doughnuts anyway. ARE THOSE LEGS?

Ibitimes also had this. Spaghetti & nightmares.

Ibitimes also had this. Spaghetti & nightmares.

I loved pasta. I did once. Then, this. Now never again.

Asian soup via Reddit. Dammit Reddit.

Asian soup via Reddit. Dammit Reddit.


Via Vr-Lab

Via Vr-Lab

Hey, look, what a diverse menu of terror!

I’m never, ever eating Asian again. Why does so much of it look fishy?

Thanks, again, VR-Lab.

Thanks, again, VR-Lab.

I, too, would be in the foetal position if my soup was a WRITHING MASS.

VR-Lab.... Shtap. Please.

VR-Lab…. Shtap. Please.


Fiber UI Experiments

This week has been the lowest-level backbone things for the Fiber Browser. Mostly I’ve been designing the manifest class, which accepts a JSON file and produces a nice reliable API to interpret. Most of this browser will run on extensions, so the Manifest is one of the most important parts of this browser. It’s largely based on Chrome manifest files, however it differs in naming conventions (e.g. camelCase) and structural areas, the largest being “services” support. Services include things like “history” and  “bookmarks”. Services will have clearly defined APIs, and extensions using those services don’t need to know what extension is offering the service.

Earlier I put up a G+ post of one of my UI experiments for Fiber. I had created the following design based on the idea that the address bar is becoming obsolete, and needed feedback on my thought process. The idea is that the address bar is hidden inside the tabs, and when a tab is double-clicked it would expand to reveal the address behind the tab.

fiber-modesAside from some KDE integration, the original (nearly chrome-identical) design added nothing to the browser space.  I didn’t want to make a browser that was the same, but I don’t like changing things just for the sake of being unique.

uniqueforkMy G+ post was a fleshed-out version of my favourite pencil wireframe. The first thing I looked at was the wasted space in browsers; the current “space race” has lead to one generally accepted design with tabs on top and content controls on a second row. Sometimes a bookmarks bar. Lots of smart engineers at Google, Mozilla, Apple, Microsoft, and Opera have looked at UI controls in browsers, it’s not an accident that this is the current “best design”. The current browser layout offers immediate access to important controls, with the two expanding elements (tabs and address) being on two rows. but the address bar didn’t to anything the search bar couldn’t, aside from address a very specific URL.

So, after my design and some more thinking I took a look at browsers again, and I found only IE broke from the trend by putting everything on one row with approximately half the toolbar going to the address bar, and other half going to the tabs. The benefit was saving vertical space, but with the downside of limiting how many tabs a window could multi-task easily.

internet-explorer-11This was very close to my design with the sole exception being that the core functionality of the line input is an address bar – where mine was search. I was actually a little shocked at the back/forward buttons too, because mine looked similar. Granted, I was actually aping an older Firefox design, but that’s beside the point. 😛

So I took a more thorough look at more factors, and settled on my current design goal (pending YOUR feedback!); please note that the new tab page is a placeholder.

fiber-full-12The first thing going on is moving the search bar in a position to the IE address bar. After careful consideration, I realised the search bar was going to be much more heavily used, so it needed better placement closer to users’ muscle memory. Additionally, since websites tend to place navigational elements on the top or left, it made sense to have the search be nearer to where the mouse might be. The search bar will also search your bookmarks and history, so it should find regularly accessed URLs efficiently. Depending on the extension rollout, the capabilities of the search bar should be adjustable.

Bookmarks have been moved from a tab to a menu button. I don’t know what I was thinking putting bookmarks as a tab. Too bad I don’t do drugs, or I’d have an excuse. I also put in the ‘new tab’ button.

Next is the preview. There’s the thumbnail, the loading status bar, the highlighted domain, https status, and tab type.

fiber-full-12-markedNot seen would be the transient URL bar. The bar would be colour-coded, and extensions could augment it to add icons or snippets of text. For example, it would be neat to have a phishing extension warn users before they even click a dangerous link, display if the link will run a popup, etc.

One thing mentioned in the original G+ post was phishing and the address bar; with no address bar, how can you spot phishing? Simply put, I don’t want to rely on the address bar to warn users about phishing. I just think it’s a bad idea which shouldn’t be relied upon, as I don’t believe most users understand how URLs are composed – and while it may be simple to many of us, addresses have many moving parts. Additionally if a website looks convincing enough, users may not feel the need to double check the address bar.
Far, far later in development, possible a version or two after release, I plan to add safety extensions. I’m interested in the Google Safe Browsing API.
Otherwise, the only thing not shown in the new screenshots is the address bar which, like the first designs, would expand by double-clicking a tab. I may also look at putting in a toggleable button for the same purpose, as some persons have difficulty double-clicking, or may want faster access.Any C&C would be deeply appreciated, this is an evolving design and I’d like to have it well thought-out before I begin programming that aspect of the browser.

Software vs. Philosophy; Raging against Microsoft as a Company is Backward

Today the FOSS world was shaken a bit with some of Microsofts announcements, mainly after the announcement of a cross-platform version Visual Studio which has a native Linux version. While not strictly their original brand-name IDE, it’s still a big announcement for Microsoft to put one of their top brands so ‘quintessentially Windows’ onto Linux… But the most interesting part of the announcement was not the release, but to me, it was the 3 distinct groups of onlookers who have been commenting on the news that the Redmond giant has quite boldly stepped far deeper into open-source wilds than it has been before.

The first group of people are the ones who have been supportive, praising our ‘enemy of old’ for moving away from lock-in and towards turning a new leaf; especially since it directly conflicts so completely with how they have historically monetised their business. Previously for Microsoft to win “everyone else had to lose”, but it has become apparent that this mindset is no longer in their DNA.

There’s the group of people who are looking at the software as what it is; a new development IDE which may be better or worse than contemporary Linux development applications. Some have noted it’s a fork of Atom, and while it disappoints some who wanted to think it would be a pure-MS codebase hitting the light of day – it’s still interesting to see Microsoft release products in the true nature of Open Source, where we fork software to make improvements we believe will serve it best.

But the group I’m most interested in addressing is the haters, the people who refer to Microsoft as “M$” and spit on any work the company produces. The people whose philosophical hate of yesteryears software giant continues unabated, their seething vocal loathing denouncing their work as the next plot or substandard because of its ‘capitalist origins’.

I’ll admit I went through a ‘zealot’ phase when I got into Linux – because I was young and stupid and half a hipster. The first year I thought I was awesome for ‘being free’ and ‘sticking it to the evil companies’ like Microsoft. I refused to use non-free drivers, and thought I was liberating myself by jacking-in my laptop because there wasn’t a free wireless driver. My setup was sub-optimal, and I was stupidly proud of my broken barely-functional equipment.

Today I find the functionality and flexibility of Linux suits my personal development habits, I find the desktop pleasingly functional, and I use software that works for me – regardless of the source. I use Steam because it enables me to entertained without rebooting my computer, with AAA-games such as Bioshock Infinite and Cities: Skylines running perfectly. I use the Xbox controller because extended play on any other input will hurt me. I appreciate that there are free alternatives which offer me a guarantee of ‘shenanigan-free’ computing, but where the software is good I will use it, even if it’s closed. If Microsoft releases products on Linux I may use them if they have a place – even if those applications are not free software.

When it comes to hating Microsoft, to me, that idea no longer makes sense. I will freely say I do hate and loath *parts* of the company, but to hate the whole umbrella regardless of the people involved is becoming backward. I love the teams who are saying “hey, lets get into open-source” while also raging against the legal arm attempting to leech from Android. It’s the same with Google; I love the parts of Google that sponsor open-source events while being wary of their disturbing advertising model.

You could argue that even if you only support the positive sections of a company the negatives benefit as well; that by supporting the Visual Studio team you’re potentially helping the slimy legal arm survive – but in reality if Microsoft sees support and benefits from better alternatives, they will shift their resources in that direction. A company that large requires time to turn the ship around, and there’s no real point in taking pot-shots at them when you can see their teams genuinely charting into such unfamiliar waters.

The fact is Microsoft isn’t a single hive-mind nest of businessmen looking to suck every dollar from the digital age. It’s thousands of upstanding people with real human problems who genuinely want to see the software they write improve the world. I don’t see cronies stepping onto public transit disturbing the bus driver because of their maniacal cackling – the world didn’t see an uptick in animal sacrifice and Hot Topic sales as Microsoft recruited its developers.

Am I going to use this new cross-platform Visual Studio? Probably not – I’m getting familiar with Qt Creator – but I will genuinely try it at some point.  For whatever reason the Redmond camp has become friendlier with open-source… Be it the fact that they aren’t the 800-pound gorilla, that Gates and Ballmer are no longer at the wheel, or because open systems are dominating new markets; it doesn’t matter. The company is improving its philosophy, and I think we’ll be the foolish ones if we dismiss it. If you’re a hater, hop onto the bandwagon of people paying attention to what they do – they’re publishing software in open waters, we’d be morons not to encourage, extend, and integrate.

Chroma Update

So, where’s Chroma, the experimental window decoration Breeze fork? Still not released yet.

The main hurdle is the fact that Chroma previously overwrote Breeze; once you installed the Chroma repo Breeze would be kicked out like a bad room mate.

Not having both is obviously no good. If Chroma breaks and crashes Kwin, it will restart and attempt to use Breeze, instead loading Chroma… And we get into a crash loop, require users to drop to a terminal, and install an alternate DE or window manager. Blegh. Ugly.

(Not that I believe it would do that, but if I did it to one person I’d feel super bad)

The cheap and obvious solution would be to just open my project directory and do a find->replace for ‘Breeze’ and replace it with ‘Chroma’, and I’m sure that would instantly resolve all the issues – but it would completely undermine my ability to easily pull/push back to the main codebase if I mangle it.


What I don’t want the Chroma codebase to be

Essentially, I want Chroma to read as Breeze in code, and I want both codebases to easily share between each-other without naming breaking things.

So, where are we?

Right now Chroma is installing, but there’s some quantum fiddly-bits which get all timey-wimey; when you install Chroma you are presented with two Breeze decorations in the KCM. Because I’m still inexperienced with this stuff, I’m still in the process of tracking down where I must rename Breeze to Chroma to get it registering properly, but I’m taking my time because I don’t want to rename things needlessly.

So right now it should be done ‘any time’, once I realise what minor tweaks need to be made so we can get Chroma and Breeze co-existing nicely. I’ll also admit currently Chroma isn’t my primary focus, so more/less I’m just taking the odd hour when I need a breather to browse through the code and see what needs to be done.

Cropping workloads and deciding what’s important

The FOSS community is amazing, and as often we may hear it has problems there’s one serious issue I’m sure we all agree with; we will always have a need for more contributors. Every project is starving for people – I couldn’t name a single project which isn’t on some level.

What we lack in fleshy human caffeine-to-output converters we make up for with passionate members, and the people who are part of projects are more often than not the insanely dedicated heros who churn enough work to equal more than a few of their peers. A huge number of insanely important projects are usually headed up by single individuals.

In FOSS you very quickly get noticed when you contribute, even if it’s a small contribution to a high-profile project. Once you get noticed other projects may ask for you, people who belong to multiple projects will ask to introduce you to other teams, and before long you realize you’ve gone from doing a couple projects well to several projects poorly. This presents a whole new problem I have recently come to terms with: You can’t contribute to every project.

I got all sour-apples about it with myself, one of those “you idiot!” inner monologues. Last week I said ‘yes’ to another project, and today I sat down and realised I was wasting peoples time. The person who invited me was catching me up, in the hangouts people were being patient while I straightened out my facts, and I contributed nothing. Using my crystal ball labelled “common sense” I divined that I’d probably only get an hour or two a week to offer up. Not nearly enough for the scale of that project, at least when you must budget time like a precious commodity.

In my seat I wrote out a list of projects I have on the go, and realised the number I produced was “too many”. I slumped, because I wanted to contribute to them all and I had to do the worst thing ever: start looking at projects to step back from. It sucked.

The problem with being attached to a project which you’re not really contributing to is that it can be a severe detriment to the people who are actively contributing; they may ask you to take care of a task, and what should have been a 2-day knockout turns into a 2-week slog, causing delays and problems.
So, I’ve stepped back from a handful of projects I had joined up with; No fears for anyone wondering if “you’re next”, since I’ve already sent out messages to the projects I’m stepping back from. Right now, I want to keep focus on at most 3 projects.

I’d rather do a few things well, than many things poorly. Hopefully, over the coming weeks, the projects I’m still involved with will see a stronger push from my end again, and adequate waves will be made.

Halloween Mask Madness!

This year for Halloween I wanted to make a pumpkin-head scarecrow. The rest of the costume didn’t quite work out, but the mask did, and I took pictures of the process;


Mmmmm… Raw materials.


I had a Styrofoam dome which was the base; first thing I did was mark it up with the design.


Basic reference carving, got the shape out. I used a scalpel for the initial carving, but later I switch to a bread knife to speed things up.


First round of paper-mache. I used bathroom tissue, glue, and a small amount of water. I mixed it into a thick paste and painted the mache on. Taped a garbage bag to the side of my desk because Styrofoam was getting EVERYWHERE. Didn’t help at all.


The first round of paper mache dries.


Coated the inner side of the dome with straight-up glue. Still not sure why, seemed like the thing to do.


Close-up of the inside.


Paint base-coat. A nice pumpkin orange.


Pumpkins aren’t just orange; there’s some green veining under the skin in some places, and also areas which are lighter. So I added that to the pumpkin. Areas which are especially dark will be where I apply the spotting you see on some pumpkins to give it a more “imperfect” look.


An orange coat overtop the previous paint.


I add the spotting I mentioned over the darkened areas. I purposefully allowed some of the still-wet green paint get onto the brush so the colours would be less uniform.


I sanded down the larger green “blisters” and glues the straps on. Finished! If I feel like keeping this thing around for whatever reason, I’ll go a goat of glue as a poor mans’ sealer.

Complete Costume

Complete Costume