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2023-10-01 📌 Project Zebra: We build our computers the way we build our cities

Tags All Linux Personal Tech

This entry is part of my Project Zebra series covering migration to Linux for personal computing use.

Title reference: the full quote is "We build our computers the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins." —Ellen Ullman (which often gets misquoted as "computer systems" and by people who don't seem to have read the 1998 Salon article about Linux, which is well worth a skim and still relevant when language learning models are encroaching on traditional development environments). I feel I should be checking out her recent books.

I was reading this and it's nice that smarter people than the original designers of Wayland have a plan. It's nice they seem to realise that most users fundamentally care about things not breaking and using their computers to do work, not development. It's easy to have more faith than in anything dependent on Gnome. Maybe this approach will work. I also suspect that when it comes to it will attract enough maintenance to survive, in the same way Devuan exists and people are committed to Emacs.

I'm used to using tools such as Birdtray and KDocker (or RBTray on Windows) to keep out of the way things that I want to leave running but not show on the panel, such as an email client, extra file manager or browser windows, etc. and use that extra space to be able to see window/document titles on the main task manager. I've previously looked at virtual desktops and activities, but things like that don't tend to place nicely with multi-monitor setups. Putting things in the notification area / system tray, whilst something a lot of people feel strongly shouldn't be done, is a simple but effective alternative.

With Wayland on the horizon it's uncertain how well if at all any "add-on" things that interact with the windows of other applications will work in most Linux DEs, so having more window management options available in the desktop environment itself would be a plus. does mention that forcing apps to run under Xwayland works for those that provide their own tray icons, so possibly an app using that compatibility layer can be trayed by Birdtray or Kdocker.

But I think I've found an acceptable workaround solution by using KWin rules to make windows for specific applications skip the taskbar, with them still available via the Task Switcher. Hey presto, reduced clutter.

Three other possible approaches:
1. Minimise to icon for specific applications.
2. Minimise to icon for specific windows.
3. Allowing a task manager widget to show only visible windows, so that the minimised windows could be handled by a separate task manager widget.

1 and 3 got suggested at (100 and 101 respectively) and I've also raised 102 about something mentioned on Reddit regarding the lack of an option to get the task switcher to stay open and wait for user input (as some users would struggle to keep a multi-key shortcut held down). Which has resulted in a bug raised that might get categorised when things are less busy with Plasma 6 preparation.

I wonder with the HiDPI work whether GTK application tray icons will be less blurry.

It seems like a good time to preemptively move away from browsing YouTube logged in, as YT has started testing the waters of sanctioning accounts used with ad blockers, and it's not worth potentially affecting a Google account used for other things. So instead of watching some ads for favourite creators, people will move to other clients with no ads. Good choice YT.

Install F-Droid from its official source then NewPipe. This generally seems better than SkyTube, another popular alternative client, as it respects system volume/brightness plus allows overriding system theme. You can also download specific videos with these tools or yt-dlp.

Google has a terrible track record with account moderation. Even well established channels can't fight past automated processes if they get hacked without other big channels flagging down support staff on social media. Similarly, my personal experience of trying to create a channel for a group's podcast was the initial uploads were automatically flagged as spam, and an appeal was automatically rejected, rendering the newly created account useless. So, bluntly, **** Google. The old "do no evil" motto is long gone.

I had a quick look around at larger sized but still basic tablets, and the Honor Pad 8 12-inch one reviews quite well. Note: the model is often incorrectly listed, so check what you're getting. It goes for under 200 quid, refurb around 170 but sometimes as low as 150 on eBay and seems widely acknowledged as a solid budget entry at this screen size. Albeit without an SD card slot but as a TV and comics/magazines device, if you can live with that, it seems hard to beat. Personally the downsides would be weight, being more likely to get broken if dropped, and having various tablets already. And it probably won't get updated much in the way e.g. Samsung devices do, but starting with Android 12 is okay. In actual fact though, I find FBReader handles comics quite well on an 8" screen and lets you jump focus around a page almost as naturally as visually scanning and turning pages. So whilst it might be fun to play with for a bit having one tablet for general use plus dedicated ones for CCTV and as a music library is fine for now.

Link dumps...

Wolf Among Us 2 seems to actually be happening, with a release date pushed back to 2024 to avoid burnout

Brian May has re-released a remastered version of his 80s Star Fleet Project which there's a nice fan video for:

I already had the Japanese vinyl transfer (2015 if memory serves) and decided on the new one-disc version of the project to show appreciation, but it looks like the whole multi-disc set can also be listened to on YouTube:

Android VLC 3.6.1 might be close, i.e. a version that remembers A-B repeat settings

Linux at 7-10% if you count ChromeOS and unknowns

Some other interesting El Reg articles

Dan's intro to programming:

Robosen Gridlock:

David McCallum Lovecraft readings: