The Spectre of Math

October 1, 2013

Installed MATE, bliss ensued

Filed under: Linux — jlebl @ 8:25 pm

A couple of crashes of GNOME shell, including yesterday stealing my keyboard focus and refusing to let it have me back, and then the mouse not working for a while … Together with the shell just generally driving me nuts, was enough to type “installing mate on ubuntu” into google.

At least this is sort of GNOME, so I don’t feel like a “traitor to the cause.”  I do like one feature of gnome-shell and that’s the window stacking if you press it against the sides, so I can have two side by side windows easily.  On the other hand, I have multiple desktops on my second monitor now.  Yay!  It feels good to be back in saner and less-flashy times.

September 26, 2013

More GNOME gripes

Filed under: Linux — jlebl @ 3:45 pm

Since I could install new enough Ubuntu to easily install GNOME 3.8 and hence use Classic mode, I am now for the last month or so using GNOME shell at work.  Now I just got a wonderful new computer with two screens that I just installed the same setup on.  And I have to say that there were several things that drove me absolutely crazy yesterday.

  1. I can’t tell a difference between focused window and unfocused window in the default theme.  I kept typing into the wrong window leading to all sorts of bad things happening (sucks having what should go in a terminal being typed into your grant proposal, and then having to hunt it down, or perhaps typing something into your grant proposal and instead typing it into gmail with keybindings turned on and hence archiving a few unread emails that you have to hunt down without actually knowing what they are.)  I found a different theme that does the only sane thing of making the title bar really blue when focused and really gray when unfocused, bad thing is, that such a usability issue is only in the tweaks, and that the theme is ugly.  Good thing I value actually working over how nice the thing is.
  2. Printers!  I can’t add the printer.  Instead of easily adding a printer I get presented with a dialog where I can’t do anything, it lists some random printers usually in other people’s offices.  The “community printer” on this floor is not listed.  Hmmm … what is the address … I go to the old computer (also with GNOME 3.8) look into printers and I can’t find detailed info about the printer.  After about 5 minutes of fussing around I remember to look into the cups text config file.  Ahhh …  now I have the address of the printer.  OK, so how to add it.  On the new computer, click “Add printer” and then where do I put in that address.  Putting it into the search bar yields nothing useful, pressing enter adds someone’s personal printer.  OK fail … After further number of minutes I give up on the gnome printer thingie as totally and utterly useless.  OK, but where is the good old (or bad old, but at least somewhat usable) printer setting application.  Now my memory is still what it used to be: bad.  So I can’t remember it.   It doesn’t appear in the gnome-shell, typing “printers” into overview mode only brings up the totally useless gnome version.  OK, have to google, after a few minutes I find it.  I have to start “system-config-printer” from the command line.  There although the interface is also bad, I can actually add the printer.  Damnit, about a decade ago in GNOME I could do all this with just mouse clicking.  With this new really simple-to-use GNOME I can’t, I have to use command line.  To add a printer!  This went from bad UI to unusable UI.  Not only that, I can’t get to the usable UI from the UI even though it is installed.
  3. Multiple monitors:  GNOME shell does something weird with multiple monitors.  It treats the second monitor as sort of “scrap space” that you don’t really use, so there are no multiple desktops, there is no bar on top …  I know there is a setting in tweak (the fact that tweak exists is a failure of design to begin with), but the setting doesn’t seem to work.  All it does is to make the extra monitor slide around, but there is still just one desktop on the extra monitor.  It feels like this was designed by somebody using the second monitor as a presentation display for a laptop or some such.  It doesn’t really make sense for a two display workstation.
  4. The status menu is now easy to miss and skip by mistake into the second monitor.
  5. The overview mode active corner is really damn annoying.  I keep going into it when wanting to press the back button on the browser.  Fitts law fail!
  6. No more categories in the shell overview.  Good thing there is the menu on top in classic mode.  I don’t search!  I click!  Mostly because I can’t remember what to search for.  Looking through a list of ALL application sorted by alphabet is rediculous.
  7. evince keeps crashing, and the dbus interface seems to have changed again so my synctex script no longer works.  This is really annoying when you have to get something done.

All in all, I am very unhappy so far, and getting unhappier and grumpier by the minute.  I think XFCE, for all its suckiness will end up being my work desktop too.

June 25, 2013

New Genius out (1.0.17)

Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Mathematics — jlebl @ 9:18 pm

Release a new Genius version (1.0.17) today.  See the website.

Main new thing is that it is using Cairo to draw now thanks to update to new GtkExtra.  At some point I should package up and document all the fixes/changes I’ve made to GtkExtra and submit them upstream, it seems that GtkExtra is now alive again.

May 30, 2013

Windows 8.1 innovations

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 4:35 pm

I’ve just briefly glanced at what’s new in Windows 8.1, probably because I am procrastinating right now, not because I am actually interested, not having any plan of ever using Windows ever again in my life.  It was really amusing that new features are apparently that you can open more than two applications at once and also resize them on screen.  So maybe Windows 8.1 will finally catch up to Windows 1.0.

I feel I’m taking crazy pills here, because almost everyone is really into this trend.  First make the interface really bare (but graphically intensive) to make it look like a smartphone.  Then reintroduce very restrictive versions of these features and tout them as great achievements.  Chrome OS also at some point caught up with the 80s and added stacking windows.  I wonder when Windows will finally get into the 80s.

And while basic features like window management appear an insurmountable challenge in the new “iphone app” mentality, putting up a clock on your screen eats more CPU/GPU and memory than it would take to guide a spacecraft to Mars and back.  Not even that long ago did a calculator application not require 3D acceleration to reasonably run.

Good thing I’m using XFCE here.  Let’s see how I start a calculator: My non-accelerated desktop means that if I press Ctrl-Alt-R (which is my shortcut for terminal … R used to stand for rxvt long time ago) I immediately get a terminal.  Then I type “genius” press enter, and I’ve optimized the startup so I get a prompt immediately, there is essentially zero wait.  I type in a calculation, and out pops the answer.  Now if I attempt to do this on my phone, or in GNOME using the native calculator, there are several long waits either when some random nonsense is loading just for me to start the app and then there are these useless animations taking up time.  So for example if I have a student in my office and want to just quickly (note the word quickly) calculate something about their grade, I would definitely not do it on my phone.  Even try starting the native terminal in GNOME, it’s a few seconds wait on my machine from the time I get to start it (click a button, or whatnot).  So much for accelerated desktop. Just trying to phone someone on my phone is often a lot longer process than it used to be in the 90s when I got my first cellphone.  There is hardly a lack of power in the phone, it is just that it is so skillfully wasted.

This younger generation today must be really really patient (compared to us old fogies … you know 35 is old when it comes to technology) to put up with this.

February 7, 2013

The computation

Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Mathematics,Technology — jlebl @ 4:47 pm

So the computation has finished (actually a few days ago) for degree 19. I’ve only yesterday gotten around to finishing a short paper (addendum) to post to arxiv, which I’ve done yesterday, see arXiv:1302.1441. The really funky thing is that there are so many sharp polynomials in degree 19. Up to symmetry there are 16 in odd degrees up to degree 17, yet there are 13 in degree 19. And two of the new ones are symmetric, which is actually surprising, that seems it should be hard to achieve if you think about how they are constructed. There’s probably a bunch of interesting number theory that appears here. It should be fun to figure out what’s going on there.

This was the first time a paper of mine got reclassified to a different archive on arxiv. I put it into algebraic geometry because well, the motivation comes from geometry, but it got stuck into comutative algebra. Which actually makes a lot more sense. Especially since none of the motivation from geometry appears in this writeup.

Degree 21 has been running for about a week. It will probably be running for the next year or so at which point I really expect it to just spit out only one polynomial which is the group invariant one we already know about. Which would be also kind of funky since then there would be two degrees with as few polynomials as possible and in between there would be a degree with the most polynomials we have found so far in any degree.

November 3, 2012

Linus has way too much time on his hands

Filed under: Linux,Personal,Technology — jlebl @ 8:44 pm

So latest news comes that Linus has switched to KDE. This apparently after first switching to XFCE, then I guess back to GNOME. Hmmm.

I’m still on XFCE. Can’t be bothered to try anything else. Yes XFCE is somewhat sucky, but once you fix its stupidities (such as the filemanager taking a minute to start up due to some vfs snafu that’s been apparently around forever), it’s there. I’ve entertained the thought of trying something else, but it’s not an exciting enough proposition.

Now I am wondering what to do once Fedora 16 stops being supported. Should I spend the afternoon upgrading to 18? The issue is that I can’t do the normal upgrade thing since that would boot into it’s own environment and would not load a necessary module that I do on startup that turns off the bad nvidia card with a screwed up heatsink. It’s impossible to do this in BIOS (stupid stupid Lenovo, never buying another Lenovo again). Anyway, that means having to do it right after boot, but before the GUI comes up since that would (even if using the intel card) turn the laptop into a portable oven, and it will just turn off and die nowdays. I am thinking that maybe if the upgrade happens during the wintertime, I could just stick the laptop on snow (and wait till it’s at least 20 below freezing) and then it could stay sane for the duration of the upgrade perhaps. I will probably try to do the upgrade by yum only, but that seems like it could be bug prone and would require some manual tinkering, and I just don’t care enough to do that.

Next time picking a distro I’m going with something LTS I think. And … Get off my lawn!!!

May 12, 2012

Return to linear search

Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 5:02 pm

So … apparently searching an unordered list without any structure whatsoever is supposed to be better than having structure. At least that’s the new GNOME shell design that removes categories, removes any ordering and places icons in pages. The arguments are that it’s hard to categorize things and people use spatial memory to find where things are.

The spatial memory was here before with nautilus. It didn’t work out so great. No people don’t have spatial memory. For example for me, I use a small number of applications often, I put their launchers somewhere easy to reach. The rest of the applications I use rarely if never. No I do not remember where they are, I do not even remember what they are named. E.g. I don’t remember what the ftp client list, but I am not a total moron and I correctly guess to look for it in the “Internet” menu which is managable. Given I’ve used ftp probably once in a year, I do not remember where it is. Another example is when Maia (6 year old) needs a game to play. I never play games, but I have a few installed for these occasions. Do I want to look through an unordered list of 50-100 icons? Hell no. I want to click on “Games” and pick one. 95% or so of applications i have installed I use rarely. I will not “remember” where they are. I don’t want to spend hours trying to sort or organize the list of icons. Isn’t that what the computer can do for me? Vast majority of people (non-geeks) never change their default config, they use it as it came. So they will not organize it unless the computer organizes it for them. I have an android tablet, and this paged interface with icons you have to somehow organize yourself is totally annoying. One of the reasons why I find the tablet unusable (I don’t think I’ve turned it on for a few months now). That interface might work well when you have 10 apps, but it fails miserably when you have 100.

If I could remember that games are on page 4 (after presumably I’ve made a lot of unneeded effort to put them there) I can remember they are in the “Games” category. Actually there I don’t have to memorize it. Why don’t we just number all the buttons in an application since the user could remember what button number 4 that’s right next to button number 3 on window number 5 does. I mean, the user can use spatial memory right?

Now as for “that’s why there is search” … yeah but that only works when you know what you are searching for. I usually know what I am searching for once I found it. It’s this idea that google is the best interface for everything. Google is useful for the web because there are waaaaay too many pages to categorize. That’s not a problem for applications. Search is a compromise. It is a way to find things when there are too many to organize.

The argument “some apps don’t fit into one category neatly” also fails. The whole idea of the vfolder menus was that you could have arbitrary queries for submenus. You can have an app appear in every category where it makes sense. Now just because people making up the menus didn’t get it just right doesn’t make it a bad idea. Also now this leads to a lot of apps without any categories. The problem I think is with the original terminology. When I was designing this system I used “Keywords” instead of “Categories”. But KDE already had Keywords, so we used Categories, but you should think of them as Keywords on which to query where the icon appears. It describes the application, it doesn’t hardcode where it appears. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of understanding of this concept which always led to miscategorization. For example someone changed the original design to say some things were some sort of “core categories” or whatnot and that only one should appear on an icon and that there will be a menu with that name. That defeats the purpose. It’s like beating out the front glass of your car and then complaining about the wind.

Finally, what if I lend my computer to someone to do something quickly. No I am a normal person, so I don’t create a new account. And even if I do create a new account, the default sorting of apps is unlikely to be helpful. If someone just wants to quickly do something that doesn’t involve the icons on the dash, they’re out of luck if I have lots of apps installed. Plus at work I will have a different UI, on my laptop I have a different UI, and any other computer I use will have a different UI. I can’t customize everyone of them just to use them.

As it is, if I had a friend use my computer with gnome-shell they were lost. If it’s made even less usable … thank god for XFCE, though I worry that these moves towards iphonization of the UI will lead to even worse categorization. There are already many .desktop’s with badly filled out Categories field, so there will be less incentive to do it correctly.

April 29, 2012

GNOME UI Fail

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 3:21 pm

So, another GNOME UI fail. Marketa has a new computer: Using compositing leads to crashes so using fallback gnome (am thinking i should switch her to xfce as well). But this is really not a problem of the fallback.

Anyway, the UI fail I am talking about is “adding a printer”. Something which she figured out how to do previously. Not with the new UI for the printing. The thing is, the window is almost empty and it is not at all clear what to press to add a printer. So she hasn’t figured it out and I had to help out. I figured out three things

1) The “unlock” thing is totally unintuitive. She did not think of pressing it. She doesn’t want to unlock anything, she wants to add a printer. With it, some parts of the UI are greyed out, but it’s not clear what should happen.

2) There is just a “+” in a lower corner that you have to press. She did not figure out that’s what you have to press to add a printer. A button with “Add printer” would have been a million times better.

3) Not even I figured out how to set default options for the printer such as duplex, resolution, etc… Pressing “Options” is something about forbidden users or whatnot, which is a totally useless option on a laptop.

If a PhD who has used computers for years can’t figure out how to do something like this, there is a problem with the UI.

This is a symptom all over the new GNOME system settings. It’s very hard to set something up if it didn’t set itself up automatically. There’s also a lot of guesswork involved now. The UI may be slightly prettier, but it is a step backwards usage-wise.

Here’s a solution:

1) Get rid of the lock thing, go back to the model that if you do something that requires authentication, ask for authentication. Why should there be extra UI that only confuses the user.

2) Change the “+” and “-” buttons to have the actual text. “Add printer” “Remove printer”.

3) “Add printer” should be very prominent in the UI. I bet 90% of the time when a normal user enters that dialog, they want to add a printer.

4) Put options where they can be accessed. Surely the options are accessible somewhere, but I didn’t find it.

Maybe I should file a bug that will get ignored …

April 15, 2012

XFCE 1, GNOME Shell 0

Filed under: Linux — jlebl @ 6:50 pm

After a year of using GNOME-shell, I finally got fed up with it. GNOME shell is unfortunately really annoying to use. There are so many decisions it tries to do, that it does some of them wrong. New window placement, the whole status thing in the corner getting triggered when I don’t want it to, the overview getting triggered all the time by mistake, as well as for example custom launcher setup. When I run my script for editting latex it never shows evince and I have to focus it by alt-tab “by hand.” The whole Alt-Tab behaviour is totally nuts. I also really REALLY hate the fact that dialogs are now “attached” to their parents. I often need to look at the original window because I just forgot what I was going to type in, such as “how many pages did the document have again and what pag I am on now” when printing, this happens really really often for me, so gnome shell drives me up the wall. There are just so many little things like that that overall make it a total pain. Some are solved through extensions or change in behaviour, but I use several computers, so learning different behaviour just for my laptop is annoying.

Consistency be damned is the new motto now. From those new and cool interfaces, they are all quite different, Unity, Cinnamon, GNOME shell, (I haven’t tried KDE, I guess I won’t be able to go there out of GNOME loyalty, which was the only reason why I kept using GNOME shell for so long). Apparently rounded corners are more important than working correctly.

So at first I was happy with GNOME shell. Mostly because it seems to be aimed (despite what anyone says) at people who use the command line. People who mouse around will find GNOME shell annoying. For example my wife will not be searching for apps using the keyboard to launch them. Also the fact that it’s impossible to customize GNOME nowdays to a specific purpose easily (using dconf-editor which has totally broken UI, is really not an answer, I wasted lots of time trying to get some things to work). Either ues GNOME shell for what it’s specifically designed for, or use something else. So flexibility is also out the window.

GNOME shell seems to also think that your mousing is very precise, which it never was for me. I commonly press the wrong button, or the mouse will go somewhere it shouldn’t and the interface punishes you for it. See above about entering the overview by mistake (whenever I wanted to hit a menu or the back button or some such).

I tried LXDE, but it’s buggy as hell (at least in fedora). The window list seems to jump around, launchers don’t always work, the battery status doesn’t work, and workspace switcher is totally broken. OK, so no go there. I tried Cinnamon for a few days, but it’s bad in many of the ways that GNOME shell is. Unity is even worse.

I had some trouble with XFCE in the past (on ubuntu that was upgraded a few times, so it might not have been fair to xfce). Anyway, I installed it on fedora, and quickly set it up, and … it works. It’s not perfect, but I don’t need it to be perfect. I want it to just work, and so far it does. It gets out of my way, unlike GNOME shell which kept trying to get in my way. Plus it’s fast.

So kudos to XFCE. I think I’ll stick with it.

July 12, 2011

No more overheating

Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 7:15 pm

Pissed off about the CPU overheating, I wrote a simple daemon. It monitors the core temperatures and sets the cpufreq governor to powersave when temperature in either core is above 90 deg celsius, and sets it back to ondemand when it gets below 75 in both cores (those numbers I pulled out of my ass, they might need tuning). It simply polls the temperature every 5 seconds. There is no configuration or anything, simply change code and recompile. It’s all the neurons I’m willing to commit to this problem.

Yes I know performance might suffer since the CPU can go even further, but I don’t care about performance, I care about the machine not turning off randomly. I guess ondemand is actually better power (and heat) wise when everything is normal, but when then heat is high, powersave does come to the rescue.

Here is the code for those that want to do something similar. You might need to modify it heavily. I called it noverheatd.c, I simply compile the thing with something like gcc -O2 -Wall noverheatd.c -o noverheatd, placed the resulting binary in /root and then in /etc/rc.local I added /root/noverheatd &. The parts that need modification is set_policy where you need to set the number of CPUs your kernel thinks it has, and then in the main loop you need to set the right coretemp paths for all the coretemps you have. I had to run “sensors-detect” as root from the lm_sensors package to obtain those guys.

Update: Poll every 5 seconds rather than every two seconds.

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